The Gift That Keeps on Giving: Holiday Plants

Looking for a feel-good, beautiful, reasonably priced gift? Plants are all that and even on trend—see #plantsmakepeoplehappy; it’s an Instagram thing. Here’s a quick guide on which plants to buy—as a gift or for yourself. Make sure to get them to their destination safely by wrapping them head to toe at the store and getting them back indoors as soon as you can.

Holiday plants come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Take the beautiful but dreaded poinsettia. It’s beautiful because the red, cream, or sparkle-laden plants are dazzling. But it is also dreaded because the plant will drop its leaves in warm and dry air, cold drafts, or direct sunlight. There’s hope—and you need not be a horticulturist to nurture a holiday plant.

Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus
So much for common names—these colorful plants (Schlumbergera spp.) hail from Brazil’s rainforest. Place them in bright, indirect light. Water thoroughly, letting the soil dry a little between waterings.

Rosemary

Rosemary
Who doesn’t love a fragrant pot of rosemary, trimmed to look like a miniature spruce tree? Keep it moist but not sopping wet, and give it bright light or a sunny window. And snip some stems for your culinary adventures.

Orchid

Orchid
Forget to water? No problem. Overwatering orchids kills them faster than underwatering. Place them in a southern or eastern exposure and enjoy several months of bloom.

Poinsettia

Poinsettia
Give it a cool spot out of direct sunlight and keep the soil moist but not soggy. It’s tricky to keep poinsettias going until spring, but if you’re game, here’s how.

Amaryllis

Amaryllis
Breathtaking, beefy amaryllis blooms—trumpets of white, cream, red, pink, or multi-colors—put on a show for several weeks. Put the plant in a bright, sunny spot and water thoroughly, letting the soil dry a bit between waterings. As each flower fades, remove the flowering stalk. A bonus: you can get it to rebloom next year.

Cyclamen

Cyclamen
Often called “the poor man’s orchid,” cyclamen (SIKE-la-men) plants like it cool, preferring daytime temperatures around 68 degrees Fahrenheit and down to 50 degrees at night—not always easy to do. However, an unheated sunroom, enclosed porch, a bright, cool window or an east or north-facing windowsill will do. Set the plant pot in a bowl of water and let it “drink” up the water and then return it to the saucer. Soil should dry out a bit between waterings, but not so much that the leaves begin to wilt.

Greenhouses

Need a little holiday pick-me-up? Stop by the Garden’s Greenhouses in the Regenstein Center for a peek at the stunning holiday plants. Save time to drop by the Garden Shop for a selection of plants and other holiday gift ideas.


Guest blogger Nina Koziol is a garden writer and horticulturist who lives and gardens in Palos Park, Illinois.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

How to move plants to a new home

Quick poll: Does the word “moving” trigger your anxiety?

How about “moving more than 100 plants”?

Former Chicago Botanic Garden horticulturist Tom Weaver recently moved to Minnesota to start a new chapter. Along with his husband and dog, he brought his plant family, a love he has nurtured since childhood. “My mom makes fun of me because I knew the Latin names of plants before I could read,” he said.

Part of Weaver's houseplant collection, grown under grow lamps in his basement.
Part of Weaver’s houseplant collection, grown under grow lamps in his basement.

Now he’s a proud plant parent to more than 100 plants. The collection is impressive, to be sure. But just how does one transport a thriving plant collection?

As I prepared for my own move (only a few blocks away), I sat down with Weaver to learn how to make the transition happy and healthy for my green, leafy friends.

Weaver's dog, Pepin, isn't so sure about the monstera coming along for the move.
Weaver’s dog, Pepin, isn’t so sure about the monstera coming along for the move.
Weaver's trunk-load of houseplants.
Weaver’s trunk-load of houseplants.

  1. Research state restrictions for plants

    “First you have to consider—if you’re moving across state lines—whether you can even bring your plants,” said Weaver. “California, Florida, Arizona … pretty much any warm-climate state has strict rules about what you can and cannot bring because there are so many agricultural pests.” For a current listing, refer to the National Plant Board.

  2. Sort and purge

    Just as you might sell, donate, or trash unwanted clothes, take a good look at your plants. Toss any you don’t want to bring to your new home. “Why bring something if you’re just going to throw it away once you get there?” Weaver said. “Now is the time to get rid of anything disease or insect-infested.”

  3. Make cuttings of large plants you can’t move

    If you’re like Weaver, you may want to take only a cutting of large specimens like his 6-foot monstera or 8-foot dracaena. Decide whether you want to bring the whole plant, or save room in your moving truck by taking a cutting (and gifting the large plant to a friend). “The nice thing about aroid plants like monstera is the vines have roots growing all over the place,” said Weaver. “You can easily chop a leaf off and root it without really having to think about it.”

  4. Pack plants with care

    Make sure plants are packed snugly in boxes so they don’t move and break. Weaver recommends wrapping plants in newspaper so dirt won’t spill, and so that plants like cacti don’t poke holes in their plant buddies.

  5. Water plants before moving

    Plants can tolerate two to three days in a box without any major problems, said Weaver. Just be sure to water them before you leave, especially if you’re driving through intense heat. “If it’s going to be 100 degrees and you make pit stops along the way, your plants will get hot,” said Weaver. “You’ll want to water them enough to get them through the trip.”

  6. Be patient with the adjustment

    Getting used to a new home goes for your plants, too. “Once you get to your new place, they’ll go through some transport shock,” said Weaver. “They may lose a couple of leaves. With anything, adjusting takes time. It’s best to put your plants in a spot that is a similar environment to their old home.” Be patient with the learning curve.

 


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Tips for Your Fall Container Gardens

Are your summer container gardens in need of a fall makeover? Good news! There are many fall-flavored plants that will provide you with texture, form, and long-lasting colors in both flowers and foliage.

I love the combination of purple or blue asters (Symphyotrichum) with ornamental kale as the colors play off each other nicely for a long-lasting fall container. Using other lesser-known plants, such as some of the fall-blooming Salvias or sage can add height and lend to very interesting combinations in your container gardens. Try using cold-hardy vegetables and adding herbs to create interest and texture to any combination. I like using Swiss chard, broccoli, Asian greens, parsley, and onions (Allium) for interesting and colorful effects.

Fall Containers

Here are a few tips for planning your fall containers:

  1. To achieve a fuller effect, use more plants than you would in the spring or summer. As the days begin to get shorter and the nights get cooler, plant growth is slowing down or ceasing. By planting a fuller container, you will see immediate results that can last for the remainder of the fall season.
  2. Try to plant by early September to give your plants a chance to kick in with some growth before the cooler temperatures and shorter days slow things down. Remember, many plants available for fall container gardens can take temperatures in the 20s Fahrenheit without being damaged, while many plants actually begin to show better foliage colors with cooler temperatures. These include ornamental kale and cabbage, Heuchera, and many ornamental grasses as well.
  3. Select plants that have a variety of tones that contrast and set off each other. Think about using colorful cultivars of Heuchera for their many foliage colors, and colorful grasses or grass-like plants, such as Pennisetum, Carex, Juncus, or the black foliage of Ophiopogon. See the list below of other fall plants to consider for your containers.
  4. Remember, a pot of mums looks fresh for three to four weeks at most, and then the show is over. Showy foliage from grasses or kale and cabbage will carry the display much longer.
  5. The fall foliage on evergreen succulents (Sempervivum ‘Hens and chicks’), and many of the stonecrop (Sedum) cultivars changes and develops more dramatic color once the temperatures stay cool.
  6. If you must have flower power, consider long- and late-blooming Salvia, Cuphea, or fall pansies or violas.
  7. When nighttime temperatures drop below freezing, have light blankets, large pots, or even an empty trash barrel handy to cover your container and protect the plantings from frost.
  8. As November passes, the time will come to disassemble your planter. Carefully place your hardy plants in a nursery bed or empty space in your vegetable garden plot to hold them over until next spring, when you can plant them in a permanent home to enjoy for another season.

 

Here are a few fall plants and items that can be added to your fall container gardens:

Brassica varieties - ornamental cabbage

Annuals:

  • Calibrachoa varieties
  • Capsicum, ornamental peppers
  • Dianthus cultivars, ‘Sweet William’ and other Pinks
  • Brassica varieties, ornamental kale and cabbage
  • Tagetes, marigolds
  • Pansies and violas
  • Helianthus, sunflowers
  • Plectranthus
  • Salvia, sages

Chrysanthemums

Perennials, trees, shrubs:

  • Anemone hybrids
  • Aster cultivars
  • Chrysanthemum, hardy fall mums
  • Helianthus and Helianthoides, perennial sunflowers
  • Rudbeckia, black-eyed-Susan
  • Boltonia
  • Sedum and Sempervivum, and other succulents
  • Fall foliage color with trees and shrubs; maples, cornus, viburnum, spirea, and others

Ornamental grasses

Ornamental grasses:

  • Miscanthus cultivars
  • Panicum cultivars
  • Pennisetum cultivars, including ornamental millet
  • Muhlenbergia, Muhly grass
  • Stipa tenuissima, Mexican feather grass
  • Schizachyrium scoparium, little bluestem

Pumpkins

Other fall items:

  • Pumpkins
  • Gourds and squash
  • Corn stalks
  • Straw
  • Branches
  • Fall decorative items; scarecrows, Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations

©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Transform Your Garden for Evening Outdoor Entertaining

Summer is in the air. As the nights heat up, it’s a perfect time to get outdoors and entertain in your garden. Chicago Botanic Garden floriculturist Tim Pollak shares how you can bring the party to your garden with a few simple tricks for evening entertaining.

Plant light-colored flowers
Enhance the darkness of evenings by planting white or cream-colored foliage and flowers. White flowers and plants create brightness in your garden by reflecting moonlight, candlelight, and firelight. Some flowers even “glow” in the moonlight, including white and yellow lilies. Pollak recommends flowering shrubs such as hydrangea, roses, and hibiscus.

hibiscus moscheutos 'Blue River II'
Hibiscus moscheutos
rosa 'Dicjana'
Rosa ‘Dicjana’
hydrangea arborescens
Hydrangea arborescens

Add fragrant, evening-blooming flowers
In areas where you can sit and entertain, use plants that emit mood-setting fragrance. Scent in a garden carries farther and longer in the evenings than in daytime, said Pollak. Plus, evening blooming plants often give off strong fragrance that attracts night-flying pollinators (additional guests for your party). Some examples of especially fragrant plants include heliotropium, nicotiana, and ipomoea alba.

outdoor garden lightingInstall night accent lighting
Lure guests down the garden path with purposefully placed outdoor lighting. You can shine focal points on specimen plants, and create wonderful shadows and backlighting effects that will enhance the setting of your evening party.

Keep warm with fire pits
People are drawn to fire pits, which create a campfire-like atmosphere, said Pollak. Fire pits also serve as focal points in your garden, providing warmth, light, and a cooking source. Stay warm on cooler nights, and enjoy the light and ambience that make fire pits a natural gathering spot for entertaining. Many fire pit options are available, including natural or electric, modern or traditional, in-ground or portable. Be sure to consider the placement of seating as well, with flexible options in case of wind and smoke.

evening outdoor entertaining - sculpture

Enhance the mood with garden structures and sounds
Nighttime atmosphere can make for a magical evening. A few sensory features such as white or gray painted structures or statues, wind chimes or fountains will add the perfect finishing touched to your evening ambience.

Keep out pesky party crashers
Mosquitos are never a welcome guest at a nighttime gathering. Keep them at bay by eliminating all standing water. You can also use citronella (including the actual citronella plant, or candles, lamps, and tiki torches) to help keep them away.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Build a DIY Native Bee Home

Pollinators are crucial to the health of the planet, helping with everything from the food we eat to the cycle of life. At the free Unearth Science festival this weekend, the Chicago Botanic Garden will celebrate pollinators with activities including a workshop on making native bee homes. We’ve got a sneak peek for you below.

Did you know that native bees are better and more efficient pollinators than honeybees when it comes to fruit trees? Honeybees carry pollen in sacks on their hind legs, which doesn’t always make it to the stigma of the flowers they visit (anthers are where the pollen grains are picked up; stigma is where they are deposited for successful pollination). Mason bees (Osmia lignaria) carry pollen all over their bodies, which means that the pollen has a greater chance of reaching the stigma for proper pollination. One mason bee can pollinate as many flowers as 100 honeybees. 

PHOTO: Mason bee (Osmia lignaria)
Mason bee (Osmia lignaria)

Mason bees pollinate a wide variety of flowers, in addition to fruit trees, with a particular emphasis on the rose family. They are generalists though, so they pollinate many types of vegetables too. If you are interested in growing fruit trees and vegetables in your yard, you may want to attract and support more mason bees.

Are you avoiding bees because they sting? Another reason to invite mason bees into your yard is that they are nonaggressive. Honeybees and bumblebees may defend their nests if disturbed, so bee skeps—or domed hives—are usually located on larger plots of land, not in typical backyards. Male mason bees do not have stingers, and the females only sting if they are trapped, so there is little reason to fear them.

We asked horticulture program specialist Nancy Clifton for a preview of her workshop at the Unearth Science festival with Northwestern University graduate student Marie Faust. The workshop, Native Bee Homes, is a free event that requires registration. You’ll find instructions for how to make a mason bee home below. Bring your questions about pollinators and other science-related topics to the festival, where dozens of scientists and horticulturists will be happy to answer them.

How to Make a Mason Bee Home

DIY native bee house
DIY native bee house

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Clean, 15-ounce metal can
  • Phragmite reed tubes
    (6 inches long)
  • 2¼-inch-wide bark ribbon
  • Cling floral adhesive (or similar putty tape)
  • Duct tape
    (camouflage blends in well)
  • Scissors
  • Rubber bands

Instructions:

Step 1: placing the reeds. They will stick out of the can quite a bit, so you can extend the lip of the can with duct tape around the reed bundle.
Step 1

Fill the metal can with as many reeds as you can tightly pack inside. Ensure the open ends of the reeds are facing out. Use duct tape to encircle the parts of the reeds that are sticking out of the can.

Wrap 3 strips of bark ribbon around the can and extension.
Step 2

Cut three strips of bark ribbon to wrap around the can and the duct-taped extension. Use bits of Cling adhesive to adhere the bark ribbon to the can in three sections, so it is completely covered.

Make a roof with bark ribbon and duct tape.
Step 3

Cut two 8-inch-long pieces of bark ribbon and duct tape them together along the long edge. Place this over the top of your can as a roof. You want to create a small gable that overlaps ½ inch over the end of the tube to keep the reeds dry when it rains.

Place the bee house against a flat surface in a protected area, with a southwest exposure.
Step 4

Use bits of Cling to adhere the roof to the house. If needed, further secure the roof with two rubber bands. Place the completed bee house fairly in a protected area, against a flat surface with a southwest exposure. Placing the house fairly high up ensures that bees will not mingle with people when entering and exiting their new home.

Leave your house out all summer and you should find mason bees filling the tubes with larvae. For information about storing and incubating mason bees for next year, visit seedsavers.org.

Sign up for the free workshop on making native bee homes with horticultural specialist Nancy Clifton and Northwestern University graduate student Marie Faust at the Unearth Science festival, April 20–22, 2018. You’ll make your own native bee home just as described above.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org