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by Ana Morlier, The Crazy Plant Lady

Fruiting Shade Trees

Happy June, everyone! I know that I will really start celebrating the month after this crazy school year ends. Crops are thriving. Vacations are beginning. However, one drawback to this awesome month is the beginning of the HEAT. To think that I hovered near any available heat source like a mayfly only a couple of months ago makes me laugh, then sweat. I will soon cling to fans and turn the house into an arctic tundra.

Being a gardener, we can only stay in cool areas for so long—the plants need tending to! One can definitely take preventative measures against the upcoming summer heat by drinking plenty of (cold) water, taking breaks, and wearing a hat. If you have a pool to cool off with, even better! However, not all of us are lucky enough to have the right conditions for a pool (we have too much wildlife eager to destroy the watery refuge). I present to you a solution that will yield produce and give you relief from the heat: shade trees! And, not just any shade trees: FRUITING shade trees! I was pretty surprised that fruit trees could check off both requirements, which made a great combination.

Apple trees are some of the best shade trees. Ap-peal-ing options include:

Early harvest apple (as the name suggests, some yield fruit as early as June! Even if it’s not early, you can enjoy the juicy, tart apple at the end of September at the latest).

Red Delicious Apple (a pretty famous apple variety—great for applesauce; harvest in fall).

Yellow Delicious Apple (IMPORTANT to cross with other tree varieties such as red delicious or red Jonathan; great for pies!).

These apple varieties grow pretty quickly—an added bonus.

Here are some other fruits that apri-caught my eye:

Apricot trees are surprisingly tolerant of cold. They are also self-fertile, but it’s a pretty good idea to plant another variety of apricot nearby (more produce).

The early golden apricot can produce fruit as early as July or August. The fruit is great for fresh eating, baking, canning, or drying.

The Moorpark Apricot is pretty much the same, except for the fact that the fruits ripen at different times. To make up for this fact, it has beautiful white-pink flowers that bloom in spring—a little late, I know, but I couldn’t leave out this fact!

Still not pear-y happy with apricots or apples? Pear-haps you should try pears!

Bartlett pear trees are rumored to be pretty easy to grow, producing fruit in late summer. They also have blooms in spring.

The Harvest Queen pear is even more pear-fect because it yields produce earlier than that of the Bartlett pears and is resistant to blight! Another variety of pear tree is needed in order for it to produce fruit.

I hope these shady (not sketchy) trees become the apple of your eye and provide you with a cool haven with lots of tasty produce!

*Credit to Arbor Day Foundation, Specialty Produce, Davey Tree Expert Company, North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox, Shari’s Berries, Punopedia, Punstoppable, Best Puns.

My own Liberty apple tree (one of two). Even though it wasn’t mentioned in the article, I wanted to illustrate how fast a young sap could grow! In the fall, it was half the size and close to death. Liberty apple is one of the best disease-resistant varieties and is great for eating fresh and baking. Liberty ripens in mid-to-late September and stores well until January.

by Ana Morlier, The Crazy Plant Lady

Butterfly Bushes: What’s the Buzz About?

As I was researching the butterfly bush (rather excitedly), I came across a fact that stopped this article in its tracks. It turns out that the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) was imported from China. Because of this, there are no native species in the U.S. to keep its population and growth under control. In other words, it’s crazy invasive. It can be toxic to some organisms, and spreads aggressively, not allowing other plant life to grow. What incarnation? I don’t think any’bud’y saw that coming.  So, I turned my eyes toward beneficial plants that host butterflies!

As much as flowering plants can be beneficial to pollinators, most don’t “host” life, especially for butterflies. This means they don’t support the life cycle of butterflies (growth, reproduction, etc.).

I feel like the milkweed plant (asclepias) is a pretty common and well-known host plant. However, I never really knew that there were flowering varieties as beautiful as the ones listed below. Most milkweed plants are also (surprisingly) deer resistant! They are especially appealing to monarch butterflies. Other organisms, such as honey bees and hummingbirds, also flock to these plants.

Asclepias Tuberosa: Fiery orange flowers, any variety of sun. Tolerant of dry, drought-like conditions.

Asclepias Tuberosa (Clay form): Lighter orange flowers, full sun, crown-shaped flowers, any soil condition.

Asclepias Hello Yellow: Don’t you just love the name? Golden flowers, full sun.

Asclepias Incarnata Cinderella: Also known as Swamp Milkweed. Pink flowers, requires full sun, claimed to have a vanilla scent.

Asclepias Incarnata: Also known as Ice Ballet (how majestic!). Tiny, delicate white flowers. Any variety of sun. Fragrant.

Common herbs and vegetables can also host butterflies, including alfalfa, rue, parsley, fennel, dill, and sunflowers. (Known to attract painted lady and black swallowtail butterflies).

Hopefully, this article will encourage you to put the “petal” to the metal (as in your shovel), and start a new, beneficial home for butterflies!

*Credit to The Farmer’s Almanac, Butterfly Identification, Maryland Manual On-line, Finding Sea Turtles, Butterfly Lady, Punpedia.

Photo Courtesy of Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica

by Ana Morlier, The Crazy Plant Lady

Dear Gardening Gangster,

I have some succulents that I need advice on caring for. My house (during the winter) is warmed by a woodstove—a dry heat source. The leaves are falling off one of my succulents. The stem is still green, but the top is coming off. My other succulents still seem to be doing great and are growing new leaves. Any advice would be helpful.  ~Sincerely, Faith in the Succulents

Dear Faith in the Succulents,

Wow, it sounds like you’ve got a lot on your trowel! Luckily, there are many ways to get your succulent back to health. Just like any patient at the doctors, succulents have many symptoms that can arise from a single problem. Here are some signs and symptoms as well as their solutions!

Signs of Overwatering

Leaves falling off

Mushy leaves

Sitting water (at the bottom)

Yellow leaves

Shriveling, limp leaves

Puffy stem

Misshapen leaves

Solution: If you are overwatering your plant, stop watering it and let it sit until the topsoil layer is completely dry. Then water it once every two days or once a week. Another problem may be drainage. Integrate pebbles or rocks into the soil or drill in drainage holes. 

Signs of Underwatering

Extremely dry soil

Yellow leaves

Shriveled leaves

Solution: Water your plant as normal, every two to three days or once a week.

Other Problems

Extreme heat. For this, move your plant to party in a shady, cool location with partial sun. Humidity isn’t as much as a problem, as succulents originate from a very dry, arid climate. They will survive! If you are worried, look to my last article for easy humidifier solutions. A wet sponge is the easiest one to use. Sure, I’ve forgotten to re-wet it to a point where it is drier than succulent soil, but in a matter of minutes, it’s soaked again.

Lack of nutrients. The easiest option is just to repot it in new soil, but that isn’t any fun! When you make your own, you can save money to buy even more succulents! (Or, whatever else you want to use it for, of course.)

Coffee grounds: This will provide a tasty drink for you and nutrients for your plant. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make everything—the house, plant, and my hand—smell amazing.

Garden “teas”: I hope you were able to enjoy drinking the fruits of your labor from my previous column about teas. It’s time to pay your plants back by giving them a tea of their own.

To make this garden tea, you must soak leaves (usually of weeds) in a bucket of water for a month. Common weeds can be used, but the most effective ones include comfrey, nettle and horsetail. Put rocks over the leaves so that they sink to the bottom and properly brew. WARNING! This does not smell pleasant—with comfrey being the worst offender to the nose. Make sure you put a lid or covering over it, so it doesn’t stink and so no critters start calling it home. You could also spray pungent essential oils (mint is one of the best ones to use) on the lid to attempt to cancel out the smell. As long as the water doesn’t freeze, the temperature of the tea does not matter (iced tea may be tasty for us, but it doesn’t bode well for plants).When you are done, strain out all the leaves and bugs (if any). Serve your planty friend the tea, diluted with water, and it will thank you, even if it can’t say anything! Make sure not to over-fertilize your succulent. With too much water, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients, the plant may suffer the same symptoms as listed above. Trying to keep your plant alive is definitely a balancing act. With succulents it can be a little easier, but problems still arise, which is completely normal

“Helping You Find Plants That Work”

by Ana Morlier    , The Crazy Plant Lady

Looking for another aspect of your life in which to interject the holiday spirit? Try the Christmas cactus! It’s actually a pretty low-maintenance plant. Other cacti in the Cactaceae family also have holiday names: the Easter cacti and the Thanksgiving (or crab) cacti. Because of our instantaneous consumer market, people are more likely to end up buying a Thanksgiving cacti or a hybrid of the Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, which blooms much faster.

Holiday Cacti — How Can You Tell the Difference?

These cacti bloom according to the season. If it blooms in fall and perks up when you watch the Macy’s Day Parade, it is a Thanksgiving cactus. A Christmas cactus has rounded or scalloped “teeth” or edges with lots of ornaments on them (not true, but you could deck out your cactus with holiday garland and the like, if you want!). Thanksgiving cactus’ leaves are jagged. The Easter cactus has very rounded edges, which are centralized on the leaf.

Contain Your Excitement

While you may think you need to put such an exotic plant in a greenhouse, this cactus thrives indoors. They are great container plants; however, to maintain the nutrients of the soil, replanting every two years is necessary.

The perfect planter pot can honestly be anything (well, not Fido, for example), as long as the plant can receive sunlight and the soil can be well-drained. You can get a traditional pot, or maybe an unused bin or something funky—like a cookie tin—to make a statement. I almost bought a high heel as a planter, but a child’s galosh could hold more soil. When looking for a container, make sure there is enough volume for the cactus to expand as it grows (usually about 3-5 inches deep, with a width of 1-2 feet). If you want to save money on containers, thrift stores such as Goodwill come in handy.

The Dirt on the Christmas Cactus

Rocks and pebbles at the bottom of the container help drain the soil so there isn’t an excess of water. This can cause fungal problems for the root of the plant, leading to a slew of horrifying diseases. Believe me, when examining a bunch of gardening books, there are always a disease-troubleshooting section with everything from aphid attacks to powdery mildew. After that, I was way too overprotective of my plants, leading to the death of a zucchini plant. If you’re cheap like me, you can find small pebbles at the dollar store. Mulch also helps to drain soil, and you can find it for free at any playground (just kidding. Please do not use mulch from public property. While it causes so many splinters and cuts, it still provides some safety for children.). You can find mulch (and most likely stones) at local hardware, gardening, and feed stores.

Soil exclusively for succulents can also be found at home improvement stores. This specialty soil is sensitive to the shallow root structures of the plant. If you don’t want to fork over your paycheck for a few measly pounds of dirt, you can make your own (for dirt cheap! Pardon the pun) by mixing pebbles or pea gravel with potting soil.

Here Comes the Sun

Grow your cactus friend in indirect sunlight, in cooler temperatures (50-55 degrees is enough to coax out beautiful blooms). Make sure that your plant doesn’t get too little sunlight. It will still grow, but the leaves will become weak and the blooms not as apparent. I know that I mentioned earlier that it would be pretty easy to grow, but there are a lot of conditions to be met to ensure your little buddy keeps thriving. Hang the plant up to encourage more growth. It can make the room look more tropical, which is great in such a dreary winter season.

I Say Let It Grow!!

Now, you can rest on your laurels and wait for it to grow! In terms of watering, keep the soil moist. You can check this by sticking your finger into the dirt. Your plant will start to shrivel up and, well, you guessed it, die, when it is too dry. I recommend watering it once every two days, more or less, depending on the condition the soil is when you touch it. Remember, over-watering causes fungal problems, so don’t soak the soil to the bottom. As long as the upper layer of soil (about ¼ inch) is moist (NOT soaked), your plant should stay healthy. Cut off the dead leaves to encourage new growth.

It can take up to eight months for flowers to bloom, but colors come in purple, red, orange, white, pink, and yellow—red or pink is the most common.

The best part of this plant is that it’s the gift that keeps on giving (perfect for the Christmas season, eh?). A mere clipping will expand significantly.

As much work as it sounds like to keep this plant alive, it is well worth it in the end. While you can’t garden outside in such cold and dreary conditions, you can take the party inside and liven up your life!

Merry Christmas (Cactus)!

*Credit to Better Homes and Gardens, Encyclopedia Britannica, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, The Spruce, and Martha Stewart.