May Day

It is ironic that May Day is an emergency word used internationally as a distress signal in radio communications that we have seen used in the movies. It is ironic, because the arrival of the first day of May is a celebration of flowers and spring. May Day was celebrated on May 1 by some early European settlers to North America with May baskets. These are baskets that were filled with flowers or treats and left at someone’s doorstep. The giver rings the bell and runs away. The person receiving the basket tries to catch the fleeing giver; if caught, a kiss is exchanged. Good idea to wear your track shoes that day.
Today the arrival of May usually means the last frost days are passing and tender flowering plants can be enjoyed in our gardens and landscapes.

My Mom told me there would be “daisies” like this

Mother’s day is a weekend to give and receive flowers to celebrate both Mom and the promise of a new gardening season. Later in May as we celebrate the Memorial Day holiday, plants and flowers play a big role in remembrance as well as our home gardening enjoyment.

Tropical plants like Hibiscus make a great Mother’s Day gift idea.

I read recently that “a weed is a flower with an advertising budget”. Today plant breeders have developed flowering plants for our landscapes that bloom longer, brighter and more reliably than the blooms enjoyed years ago. Dahlias, Pansies, Gerbera Daisies, Calibrachoa, Coleus and Petunias are great examples of how we have come a long way baby. Container gardening popularity has driven the development of reliable, continuous blooming and colorful plants that you can enjoy all summer long in your little corner of the world.
An easy container to design is a mono-culture container. Choose a single variety for your container along with an attractive container. Next mono-color combinations use two different shades of a color, but because you are using the same color you don’t have to worry about the colors clashing…they blend in shades.

The versatile colorful Gerbera Daisy

Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel and mix together easily. These can be effective and very colorful combinations of pink and red, pink and orange (a favorite of mine) yellow and orange, orange and red, violet and red, blue and green, and blue-violet. My favorite approach is using complimentary colors. On a color wheel, complimentary colors are directly opposite of each other…like red and green, orange and blue, or yellow and violet. Finally you might want to try your hand at a three way combination color scheme.

Color Wheel

I call it a triple play, some people call it a triad. This combination uses 3 colors that are spaced equally on the color wheel – the points of a triangle. Examples would be a red-yellow-blue or violet-orange-green combination. Try a red-yellow-blue or pink-yellow-blue triangle combination.
Here are two quick pointers for your May Day combinations.

Colorful Crotons and other foliage plants add season long interest to plantings.

Remember that pink is a great color to include because it plays well with almost any color including orange and red. Also remember for best success plant your container working from the inside to the outside of the pot thinking “Focal, Filler, Edger, Trailer”.

The Gift that keeps giving

The Gift that keeps Giving
Indoor plants today provide style to the home. Indoor plants provide a transition from nature to our domestic living space. Indoor plant arrangements in diverse and creative containers have gained popularity. As opposed to being innocent living defenseless and sympathetic individuals stuck in a corner, today’s indoor foliage breathes life into a home. Indoor plants help clean the air, provide oxygen and brighten our spirits. This can be done in a stylish way. It wasn’t always that way.

Foliage plants like these Sanseveria (pictured) are a welcome and healthy addition to any home!
Foliage plants like these Sanseveria (pictured) are a welcome and healthy addition to any home!

Years ago indoor gardening meant a Ficus, Dieffenbachia or Dracaena plant stuck in a corner losing half its leaves in winter. A token Fern basket would hang deprived of the humidity it needed because of dry furnace air and then maybe a Christmas cactus and an African violet on the windowsill. Today Orchids, Tillandsia, Succulents, Herbs, Fiddle leaf Fig, Sanseveria, Palms and more to name a few have become main stays of the stylish indoor garden.
If you are prone to an eclectic mix of plants I have a suggestion. Most people tend in this direction because most plants are purchased without a plan. Inspiration and impulse influence our plant purchases. That’s OK because a mix of textures and sizes in plants gives depth to your décor. I would pay attention and make investment in the containers, the “homes” for your houseplant friends. A good quality container has enough space for roots to grow and allows for drainage. A good quality container also adds to the style of your interior plant arrangement. With a variety of colors, textures and forms to your plants you can unify your living space by coordinating the containers. Even though the plants are varied, a consistent style and color of container in various sizes can unify or pull the whole décor together. As a matter of fact, I recommend for the interior what I recommend for our outside landscape. Monocultures are not a good idea. When a problem develops it spreads like fire in a monoculture. Diversity is a good thing. Celebrate it with your plants and visually tie them together with a consistent planter theme.
Finally don’t forget about Poinsettias to add color to our indoor plants in December. Today’s varieties of Poinsettia are colorful with long lasting bracts. They like other houseplants don’t like cold drafts. Don’t place them near heat registers, room temperature will do just fine for them. Don’t overwater them (too much water is the number one killer of houseplants) and make sure to provide drainage if they are foil or deco wrapped in a fancy pot cover.

Proper care for Poinsettias...don't over water and avoid cold drafts
Proper care for Poinsettias…don’t over water and avoid cold drafts

Indoor plants are our friends and help bring an interior space to life. They truly are the gift that keeps giving.

Peas on Earth

“Peas” on Earth
I have a holiday and Christmas wish for Michigan this year. An El Nino’ winter because my opinion is we deserve it after the last two winters we’ve all endured. I remember past El Nino’ November months in West Michigan. Wearing short sleeve shirts as we put the garden to bed for winter and stringing lots of Christmas lights outdoors to celebrate the holidays ahead. We would unload Christmas trees, in by November standards, warm temperatures. These were the years that due to a lack of ice and snow people would be inclined to string a lot of Christmas lights on the home and in the landscape. The final leaves of fall are raked in November and tilled into the garden. Anticipation of the upcoming holidays builds as we begin to decorate indoors and out. I am not a meteorologist, but when scientists predict an El Nino’ winter due to warm Pacific Ocean water temperatures it gets my attention.

After two very cold winters could the winter of 2015/2016 be an El Nino winter in the Midwest?
After two very cold winters could the winter of 2015/2016 be an El Nino winter in the Midwest?

Warmer November temperatures allow us to “hoe hoe hoe” extending the gardening season in West Michigan and get the ladders and extension cords out to string some “electric ivy”. I call it “peas” on earth and good “till’ towards men and women to enjoy the great outdoors in November.
November is a great month to take cuttings from the natural landscape to add to fresh greens for Porch Pots. These entry door containers are an inviting welcome to holiday visitors. Pruned Rose Hips from the rose bushes, lengths of Russian Sage, Red Twig Dogwood branches or Birch Branches as examples are great compliments to fresh evergreen boughs in containers for entryways. Now that the flowers are frozen but the soil is still workable, arrange the branches in these containers and they will look great through the holidays into February.

Porch Pots provide a great natural welcome to guests arriving at your home
Porch Pots provide a great natural welcome to guests arriving at your home

Forcing bulbs for indoor color is another way to brighten the home. Paperwhite narcissus and Amaryllis are easy to grow bulbs to flower indoors otherwise known as “forcing”. You can also still purchase Tulips and Daffodils or Hyacinths to plant outdoors or “force” indoors into bloom.

Bulbs for forcing indoors are wonderful little orbs of potential
Bulbs for forcing indoors are wonderful little orbs of potential




Finally don’t forget that indoor foliage plants are our friends as we spend more time indoors in the winter months. They can improve indoor air quality and keep us connected to nature as the winter months arrive. Try to give your foliage plants a brightly lit window and rotate them from time to time. Remember not to kill them with kindness as the shorter days and less light of winter causes them to require far less water than the summer months.

Foliage plants like these Sanseveria (pictured) are a welcome and healthy addition to any home!
Foliage plants like these Sanseveria (pictured) are a welcome and healthy addition to any home!

Bon Foliage My Friend

Bon voyage as we begin our journey into a new year. The New Year provides a fresh start often accompanied by resolutions to live healthier. How about adding a natural inexpensive air purifier to your home or landscape?

Ficus Elastica
Ficus Elastica

How about something that will improve your mood and just might enhance your productivity? Well then it’s Bon “foliage” as we begin our New Year. Talk about functional decorating! Style with a purpose! You’ll find the benefits of some well placed houseplants will grow on you!

My good friend split leaf Phil O’ Dendron

Cleaner indoor air decreases stress and noise reduction enhances your productivity. In our enclosed sealed tight spaces for winter, plants create oxygen and remove CO² as well as connecting you with the outdoors improving your mood.
Who would think the Space Station would teach us the benefits of clean indoor air? It makes “scents” when you think about it. Astronauts can’t throw open a window when the air gets stale and often neither can we in the middle of winter. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration conducted the NASA Clean Air Study to demonstrate the effectiveness of particular plants to purify air. That’s one small “Schefflera” for man, one giant “leaf” for mankind. Homes are more insulated and efficient today making it easier to trap indoor air pollutants.

Breath easier....Go Foliacious!
Breath easier….Go Foliacious!

We often don’t think about indoor air pollution and the seemingly harmless nature of its many sources. Aside from the obvious Uncle Ernie and his cigars or that smoking casserole on the stove, pollutants indoors can come from things like glues and adhesives, insulation materials, carpets, chemicals in household cleaners, paint and pressed wood products.
Here are some favorite easy to grow Houseplants to clean your indoor air:
• Pothos
• Philodendron
• Peace Lily
• English Ivy
• Dracaena
• Ficus Elastica or Lyrata
• Snake Plant
• Chinese Evergreen
• Spider Plant
• Aloe Vera
• Anthurium
• Bamboo Palm
• Oakleaf Ivy

One very popular houseplant today is Ficus Lyrata better known as fiddle leaf fig.

Fiddle leaf fig or Ficus Lyrata
Fiddle leaf fig or Ficus Lyrata

Unique large leaves and relatively easy to grow…..this houseplant is trending as a must have for your interior decor.

“Lettuce” make this a good year and I say some well placed purposeful foliage can do just that. Bon “foliage” my friends!

Money grows on trees!

Oh my “raking” back as some would say when faced with the prospect of clearing leaves from their yard. “Maple” I can help you. Did you know money grows on trees? It’s not a “figleaf” of my imagination. Money does grow on trees and it happens in a couple ways during the fall season.

"Maple" I can help you?
“Maple” I can help you?

The first is when the less dominant pigments in the foliage are unmasked by the loss of chlorophyll. As Billy Madison would say “Chlorophyll more like Boreophyll” but not really. The fascinating “accessory” pigments to the fragile energy producing dominant pigment chlorophyll wait their turn to take the stage. They account for only 1/3 of the amount that chlorophyll is present in a typical leaf, but they pack a punch. The accessory pigments Carotenoids (yellow to orange), Anthocyanin (red, pink, purple) and Xanthophyll/Tannins (tan to rust to brown) produce the fireworks in the fall. All season they played second fiddle to chlorophyll protecting the fragile Mr. C so to speak as suntan lotion from overexposure. When the growing season ends and winter approaches the chlorophyll’s work is done and it’s time to accessorize and go out on the town. The money part comes in when people like you and I take a drive to see the show. The brilliant fall colors are an important boon to tourism and support the economy of our communities in a “tree”-mendous way.

Carotenoid pigments create the banana yellow color in fall tree leaves
Carotenoid pigments create the banana yellow color in fall tree leaves

The second way money grows on trees is of direct benefit to you personally. You can have a green thumb by keeping more of your currency in your hands. You do this by using the nutrient value of a free sustainable resource (leaves) in your yard. Using the leaves in your garden adds organic matter (think earthworms), improves soil tilth and improves water holding capacity. But the big advantage, and here’s where the money part comes in, is the nutrients! Think about it… leaf senescence takes place valuable nutrients are being removed from the leaf transported into the tree for storage before being abscised from the tree. Not all the nutrients make it out before they fall. If you shred these leaves to speed breakdown or mulch them into fine pieces into your lawn it is a free slow release fertilizer!

"Raking" up is hard to why not instead harvest and harness the benefits of fallen foliage?
“Raking” up is hard to do….so why not instead harvest and harness the benefits of fallen foliage?

Leaves require microbial decomposition to release their nutrients which is a fancy way to say slow release fertilizer. I’m just “tilling” it like it is people! I was reading a recent study that analyzed the nutrients and chemicals in leaves from 100 municipal leaf samples. This study found that in 20 tons of leaves there is 400 pounds of nitrogen, 40 pounds of phosphorus and 152 pounds of potassium…..the big 3 NPK. There also was plenty of the minor nutrients like calcium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, iron, manganese, copper and zinc to go around. The nutrients from this example well exceeded $150.00 in value on the market. Like I said, free organic renewable slow release fertilizer. So money does grow on trees! What are you waiting for? Let’s travel at the speed of “ground” and may the “forest” be with you. Bon “foliage” my friends!

Don't be bush league! Use the slow release free fertilizer at your feet to improve your garden!
Don’t be bush league! Use the slow release free fertilizer at your feet to improve your garden!