Friday, July 28, 2017

How to harvest flowers from your garden

The North Texas area has received rain and landscapes are looking beautiful. Why not bring some of that beauty indoors by harvesting cut flowers from beds? Everybody loves a beautiful flower arrangement. By using flowers from your own yard, you can display your gardening prowess and add your own personality.

Tips for Harvesting Flowers from Your Garden

When cutting your flowers, cut flower stems at an angle to prevent the stem resting on the bottom of the vase and sealing itself over. Angular cuts also create a larger surface area for water uptake. Be careful to strip any foliage from stems that would sit below water level in a vase as these will simply decay, becoming slimy and smelly. You will also want to cut flowers in the morning for the best results. After you make your initial cuts and have stems indoor, cut stems under water to prevent air bubbles in the stems.

Wash the vase or container that you will use carefully. Bacteria will limit the life of your cut flowers. Always use room temperature water in your vases or container. Cold water has a higher oxygen content, which can also cause air bubbles to form in the stems of your flowers, blocking their water uptake. Spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils are the exception to this rule as they prefer to be placed in cold water. However, plants growing right now will do best with room temperature water.

It is a good idea to add a small amount of bleach or Listerine mouthwash to the water to inhibit bacterial growth and make your flowers last longer. You only need to add about ¼ teaspoon per gallon of water. Further, when you receive flowers from a florist, you will usually receive a “flower food” packet to add to your water to further supplement what the flowers are taking up. You can make this at home by mixing lemon-lime soda 50:50 with water. This will supply needed dextrose for the flowers to thrive. Other cola products can be used but will color the water brownish, thus, the recommendation to use lemon-lime soda, which is clear.

Give some thought to where you place your vase or container. The vase life of your cut flowers will be reduced if they are placed too close to heat, drafts or direct sunlight. Also, keep cut flowers away from fruit bowls as fruit produces ethylene which causes cut flowers to deteriorate. Remove any dead or fading blooms to prevent bacteria damaging the healthy flowers. You will want to also change the water completely every few days.

Cut Flower Favorites from the Garden in Summer

The following are a quick list of flowers typically blooming in the summer that can be easily used for cut flowers: Sunflowers; Dianthus (including carnations, pinks, and sweet William); Snapdragon; Cosmos; Marigold; Zinnia; Butterfly Weed; Canna; daisies of different types; Coreopsis; Coneflower; Ferns; Gayfeather; Balloon Flower and Mexican Marigold. The typical vase life for many cut flowers can range from 3-4 days to 21 days and more. A good source of information on the vase life of flowers you would like to use as cut flowers would be county Master Gardeners groups, college horticultural programs or local florists. Gainesville is lucky to have all three in our area!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Good Samaritan saves the day after heartless thieves steal sentimental flowers from Surrey Downs couple

FOR four long weeks, Surrey Downs couple Brian and Ann Bennett wondered how low society could possibly go.

Last month, the pair discovered two of their "magnificent" chrysanthemums had been stolen overnight, just 3m from their front door.

The purple and white flowers with red tips were a Mother's Day gift four years ago from their disabled son, Michael, 36, who suffers from cerebral palsy.

"We were going to put some of the chrysanthemums on my mother's grave," Brian says. "They had struggled to grow until this year ... they were magnificent."

His wife, Ann, was equally gutted. "It was like being winded, punched in the solar plexus," she says.

"It gives you that uneasy feeling that somebody's poking that close to your front door, I was really angry. I'm no green thumb, I'm more of a brown thumb, but the flowers had really taken off after a few years."

Also taken were three little sentimental ornaments – a Pekinese dog from a "dear-departed friend", an angel and a plaque given to Brian as a retirement gift by his daughter-in-law 14 years ago.

But the Bennetts's story had a kind-hearted twist in store.

Last Sunday, after Brian wrote a letter to the editor in the Leader Weekly lambasting the thieves, an anonymous donor left replacement chrysanthemums by their front door.

"There was a lovely note that read ‘to our lovely neighbours, after the theft of your plant we read your article in the Messenger and thought that we would like to replace your plant," Ann says. "It was another punch in the solar plexus, but in a nice way."

Friday, May 26, 2017

This Cockroach May Pollinate Flowers—Extremely Rare Find

In the scrublands of central Chile, wild roaches are feeding on pollen and may even be helping plants to propagate.

They may be reviled as a scourge of urban living, but most of the world's cockroaches don't scurry anywhere near a city.

A whopping 99 percent of the 4,500 known cockroach species thrive in wild places, playing vital roles in ecosystems ranging from the rain forests of Brazil to the deserts of Saudi Arabia.

Now, a new study reveals that the cockroach Moluchia brevipennis, native to central Chile's scrublands, feeds on flower pollen—and may even pollinate plants.

"People think of them as being in the streets or in the trash, but there are these wild cockroaches hanging out at the tops of tall flowers,"says study co-author Cristian Villagra, an entomologist at the Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educación in Santiago, Chile.

Pollinating cockroaches are exceedingly rare: Only two species are known, one in French Guiana, the other on Malaysian Borneo. Then again, studies of wild cockroaches are also scarce, the researchers note in their paper, published recently in the journal Revista Brasileira de Entomologia.

Only 178 scientific papers have focused on this understudied group between 2000 and 2016, compared with tens of thousands of papers about more well-known insects such as ants and bees, according to the study authors. (Read about how cockroaches are also excellent dads.)

For their research, Villagra and colleagues conducted the first-ever survey of M. brevipennis in various sites of Chile’s semi-arid Matorral region.

"Kids are not scared of cockroaches, but as they grow older and become adults, then they get freaked out by them," says Villagra, who is also a National Geographic Explorer. "We want to give people an opportunity to learn about these insects."
Roach Raids

For their research, Villagra and colleagues conducted the first-ever survey of M. brevipennis in various sites of the semi-arid Matorral region.

They team found that these cockroaches emerge at dusk to eat pollen from many native plant species, including evening primrose, and lay their eggs, or ootecae, only on a genus of bromeliad plants called Puya.

The entomologists suspect the cockroaches evolved to depend on native plants for shelter and food because it's a safer bet than non-natives: Endemic flora can best endure the dry, harsh climate, he says.

Insects eat pollen—essentially, plant sperm—because it's a "really energy-packed, nice tasty treat," says University of Arizona entomologist Katy Prudic.

While gorging on pollen, insects get the powdery substance all over their bodies and faces. When they land on the next flower, some pollen can fall onto the female reproductive parts at the flower’s base, fertilizing it.

Actually observing this interaction between insects and plants requires painstaking experiments, but plans are underway to study whether the cockroaches are in fact pollinating the plants, Villagra says.

Prudic thinks it's likely, since the cockroaches' lifestyle is so closely connected to the vegetation.

"What you would think of as a vile organism may be important to help these plants make more babies," says Prudic, who wasn't involved in the study. "It's fun to think of cockroaches as more than something that you want to squish." (Find out why cockroaches are so tough to squish.)

Other lesser known pollinators include midges, dung beetles, horse flies, and even mosquitoes, Prudic adds. (See "9 Ways You Can Help Bees and Other Pollinators At Home.")

No matter whether they are pollinators, cockroaches are crucial to the environment. Many species eat large quantities of decaying organic matter, making them natural recyclers, Villagra says.

He is concerned that growing tourism infrastructure in central Chile could threaten the insects' homes, as well as many native plants, including P. venusta, a bromeliad that's considered vulnerable to extinction.

"Chile has focused its development on having frontier science research funded by its government agencies," Villagra says, "but has forgotten the fact that there still lots of things to be discovered in its natural history."

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Helen Yemm on how to grow spring flowers

This week Helen Yemm advises on making the most of delightful native fritillaries, taking care if you’re pruning a lively pieris, and how to avoid accidentally injuring yourself in the garden...

A reader at an informal “Thorny Problems” session in Dorset recently asked for more advice on growing Smyrnium perfoliatum, a late-spring, glowing lime-green biennial umbel (often mistaken for some kind of euphorbia). She’d had little success in the past – is there a knack?

Not exactly, is the answer, but it is important to understand a thing or two about the way the seeds and seedlings behave in order to establish the permanent ebb-and-flow colony sought by an increasing number of “Smyrnophiles”, it would seem.

First, as is the case with many members of this “cow parsley” plant family, you have to mimic nature and sow seeds promptly, when fresh. Allot them a specific site, rather than just cast them around, so you can monitor their presence. Second, on germination, the double or triple seed leaves bear no relation to the rather coarser adult leaves of the plant and appear to die off completely during their first summer.

This is the point at which you may lose heart and even plant something else in their stead. However, if undisturbed, the tiny dormant plants will put in an appearance the following spring, producing bold, shiny leaves not unlike celery, growing extremely rapidly to around 16in (40cm) and flowering in May/June before setting masses of black seed.

So where do you start? Single, eye-catching plants are often sold at fairs and gardener gatherings in late spring. Pounce on one or two, enjoy the flowers and let them go to seed (to start the process described above). Or carry an old envelope in your glove compartment and beg some seed from a successful Smyrnophile (who’s bound to have plenty to spare), head home and sow straight away.

Snake’s head fritillaries

These little native fritillaries, with their delicately patterned nodding flowers, grow from bulbs that are most often planted in September, along with other spring stars, such as alliums and daffodils, and they flower the following year in early to mid-April. They tolerate some shade, and thrive and multiply most rapidly by self-seeding in soil that is heavy and damp.

Although they make pretty front-of-border plants, they look best growing en masse in grass that doesn’t have to be cut in early spring and can be left un-mowed until at least late July or August. Recognisable seedlings produce two leaves in their first year, and may flower in their second or third.

If you are impatient and/or gardening on a small scale (and little self-seeding patches do look quite enchanting if you can spare a lawn-corner somewhere), you could buy a few pots of flowering bulbs around now, plant them in short turf that does not dry out too drastically in the summer and allow them to just set seed and get on with it, adding more bulbs in September.

Pruning overgrown pieris

You certainly can prune your pieris. Like other spring-flowering woodland evergreens such as camellias and rhododendrons, pieris can be cut back immediately after flowering. Your shrubs will then, in theory, flower on the new growth they make subsequently, but very possibly (depending on the variety and on how radical you were with your pruning saw) not for a couple of years.

You don’t say quite enough about these shrubs. Are they forms of P. formosa (the largest) or the slightly smaller P. japonica? Did you cram them into too small a space when you acquired them (in which case they are probably quite young, and could be moved rather than pruned) or are they ancient whoppers on which the whole garden depends for structure? Or have you one of each?

Either way, I advise you to be cautious: both species are quite slow-growing, and depending on their age and situation, may not recover quickly – and pruning these woodlanders hard is not something you want to be doing very often or they will rarely flower well. But if prune them you must, perhaps cut one back quite hard this year and see how it responds before handing out any stern treatment to the other.