The bells are jingling and the elves are hard at work…it must be the holidays! As we step deeper into the season, it is time to add some wintry whimsy and fun to your home and miniature garden. We usually focus on live miniature plants and the miniature accessories that bring out the best in flowers, trees, ground cover plants, and shrubs, but today I would like to shed some light on a holiday favourite: bottle brush miniature trees.
These faux trees get their name from a kitchen tool, the bottle brush. Of course, they are not really made out of bottle brushes. These durable faux miniature plants are a good fit for indoor container gardens and even outdoor miniature gardens. They come in snow-frosted finish or plain, and you can find them bedecked with miniature decorations or unadorned. There are many options to choose from, so you can find the bottle brush tree that suits your fairy garden best.
Garden thyme, fresh or dried, alone or combined with parsley and bay leaves to make a bouquet garni, adds a distinctive aromatic flavouring to meats, poultry, stews, sauces, and stuffing. Thymus vulgaris, commonly known as cooking thyme, English thyme, French thyme, or winter thyme is just one of the 350 species of the genus Thymus. Often called the herb of courage, garden thyme can be grown indoors or out. Thyme is a shrubby perennial with small, oval, narrow, grey-green leaves, long, woody, branched stems, and sturdy roots. This plant blooms in mid-summer and has lavender-pink flowers that occur in small clusters. The flowers attract bees and the honey produced is highly valued. The leaves are very aromatic. Leaves, stems, and flowers may all be eaten.
Pets and houseplants are beloved by their owners, but it can be challenging to safely raise them together in the same house. “Reduce the risk by selecting pet-safe plants and safely managing houseplant pest problems,” says Melinda Myers, host of The Great Courses’ How to Grow Anything DVD series.
It’s time to break out the seeds and potting mix to start garden plants indoors. “It’s a great way to keep your green thumb in shape over winter,” says Melinda Myers host of The Great Courses How to Grow Anything DVD series. “Plus, you’ll save money, increase the variety of plants and jump start the growing season. And when you start seeds under LED grow lights you’ll have better results.”
Indoor growing conditions often offer limited light and that can mean tall leggy transplants with weak stems, explained Myers. Gardeners can greatly increase their success by investing in quality grow lights. Adding artificial light to any seed starting regime results in stout transplants with strong stems and deep green leaves. Myers offered these tips for getting started.
Invest wisely when shopping for indoor plant lights. Fluorescent tubes used to be the standard because they provided a wide spectrum of light needed for plant growth and flowering, were relatively inexpensive and readily available. Unfortunately, they used significant amounts of electricity and needed to be replaced every few years. Then many gardeners shifted to full spectrum fluorescent grow lights. Many last longer than the older and larger fluorescent tubes, but new LED grow lights provide even better light intensity with much less energy.
In the past, LED lights tended to be pricey and many suffered from sticker shock. Fortunately, the prices have dropped. Plus, if people consider the fact that LED plant lights typically use half the energy of fluorescent tubes, provide consistent light quality and last up to five times longer, the long-term savings outweighs the initial investment. They’re also mercury-free and won’t add contaminates to landfills.
When replacing fluorescent tubes with LED grow lights, look for compatibility. Some of the newer LED grow lights are compatible with existing T-5 light setups. Consumers simply need to replace the bulb, not the whole lighting system.
Get the most out of this investment and grow better transplants with proper use. Move seedlings under lights as soon as they start breaking through the soil surface. Keep the lights about six inches above the top of seedlings. This means raising the lights or lowering the plants as the seedlings grow. Or make a light stand using adjustable supports to raise and lower lights as needed. Use a reflector above grow light tubes to direct the light downward toward the plants. Bounce light back onto seedlings by using reflective surfaces under and around the plants. Even easier, invest in a quality grow light stand like the SunLite® Garden.
Set the lights on a timer. Seedlings need about 14 to 16 hours of light. Plants do need a dark period, so running the lights longer wastes electricity and is not good for the plants. If using grow lights to supplement natural daylight, gardeners may only need to run the lights a few hours a day. Monitor plant growth and increase the duration if the plants appear leggy or pale.
Increased light along with proper watering, fertilizer and growing temperatures will ensure a bumper crop of transplants for gardens and containers this season.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments.
Winter can be hard on indoor plants. “Low light, shorter days and dry air create a stressful environment for our houseplants while at the same time helping insects thrive,” explained gardening expert Melinda Myers. Myers said not to despair if insects have moved in and plants are struggling with yellow or speckled leaves. She shared these eco-friendly strategies to diagnose the problem and manage insects, so houseplants stay healthy and look their best.
Start by making sure houseplants are receiving the proper amount of light and water. A healthy plant is better able to resist and recover from insect infestations. Check the plant tag, internet or plant book for the recommended growing conditions. Make any needed adjustments to the plants’ care.
Take a close look at the upper and lower leaf surfaces and stems of the plants for clues to the cause of the problem. Here are some of the more common indoor plant pests and organic options, safe for children and pets, for managing them.
Fungus gnats are those small fruit fly-like insects that flit around the house. They feed on plant roots and organic matter in the soil. They usually don’t harm the plants, but certainly are annoying.
Just sprinkle an organic insecticide, like Summit Mosquito Bits, that contains the active ingredient Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis on the soil surface. This naturally occurring bacterium only kills the larvae of fungus gnats, black flies and mosquitoes.
Aphids are common pests of indoor and outdoor plants. These small teardrop shaped insects suck plant juices, causing the leaves to yellow, brown, wilt or become distorted. They secrete a clear sticky substance known as honeydew.
Mites cause similar damage, but are too small to see without a hand lens. If mites are suspected, shake a leaf over a white piece of paper and watch for specks, the mites, moving across the paper. Don’t wait until webbing is visible to control these pests. At that point there are thousands of mites making it difficult to control.
Both these types of pests can be managed in the same way. Start by placing plants in the sink or tub and knock the insects off the plant with a strong blast of water. Follow with several applications of insecticidal soap to kill the adults. Repeat as needed. Or suffocate all stages of the insects with a lightweight horticulture oil like Summit Year-Round Spray Oil.
Bumps on the stems and leaves of plants that can easily be scraped off with a thumbnail are scales. Their shells protect the adults and eggs from predators, weather and most insecticides. A similar pest, mealybug, has white waxy strands on its body for protection. Mealybugs can be found on stems, leaves and area where leaves and stems meet.
Both types of insects suck the plant juices, causing leaves to yellow and plants to decline. And just like aphids and mites, they secrete honeydew. Both are difficult to control and require persistence.
For mealybugs, remove the hard scale covering with an old toothbrush. Use a cotton swap dipped in alcohol to dissolve its waxy covering and kill the insect. Then spray with insecticidal soap to kill the immature insects. This takes time and persistence to control these pests.
Or apply a lightweight horticulture oil, like that used for mites and aphids, to suffocate both the adult and immature stages of these pests. Continue to watch for outbreaks and treat as needed.
No matter what products, natural or synthetic, make sure they are labeled for the plant and pest that are being treated. And always read and follow label directions carefully.
Investing time in managing pests as soon as they appear means healthy and more attractive plants to brighten the indoors now and for years to come.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Summit for her expertise to write this article. Myers’s web site is http://www.melindamyers.com.