Archive for December, 2010

A poster with twelve species of flowers or clu...

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I f the guests you’re expecting bring more stress than happiness, consider using your décor to keep them in line. Through the help of modern psychology and strategic arrangements, your gathering can be a civilized affair. But it’s not the seating charts or furniture that will save you; it’s your bouquets.

Two studies, one conducted by Nancy Etcoff of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the other by Jeannette Haviland-Jones, professor of Psychology at Rutgers, show that there really is power in flowers. Looking at the links between humans and blossoms, both studies suggest that human behavior can be improved by the presence of flowers. Here are a few of their findings to help you keep the holidays cheerful.

Place flowers in rooms where they’ll have the most impact: kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms. Their presence is enough to soothe the savage beast, or at least make them tolerable for an hour or two. By triggering the feeling of happiness, flowers increase connection between people, bringing them together in a positive manner.

In both studies, people felt less negative after being around flowers, and Etcoff’s study found that flowers improve compassion and kindness for others, something that should come in handy with judgmental visitors. Seat the pessimists near a display of brightly colored posies; perhaps they’ll overlook their feelings on your cooking this year.

Have someone who loves to argue in the group? Hand them a flower whenever they warm up to a topic; it will bring a smile and better behavior. According to Haviland-Jones, people entering an elevator — a place of social awkwardness — acted in a more socially positive way when handed a flower, as opposed to another gift or nothing at all.

At the very least, handing them flowers one by one over the event will keep their mind on your mental stability and off of debates.

Want to show off your antique end table without running the risk of careless water rings left by the drinks of distracted guests? Let a floral arrangement of holly provide protection for the table. The deep green, glossy leaves bedecked in berries look glorious in a winter bouquet, but a few nips from their razor-sharp spines will have your guests looking elsewhere to set their glasses (this advice is not part of the studies. It’s a trick I’ve picked up over the years).

For best effect, spread the holly along the lower and middle section of the display, keeping the size of the arrangement wide enough to discourage drinks but show off the table.

If you’d like to tamp down your guests’ baser instincts, whip up a few floral arrangements. Oasis blocks, found at local hobby stores, hold water and fresh flowers or branches when you’re not using a vase. Soak the oasis in water for a half hour before use, then place in a shallow bowl or tray.

Choose a variety of material from your garden and the local florists’ shop. If using fresh evergreens, snip the ends before inserting them into the oasis, cut stems at differing lengths to keep the arrangement interesting. Strip off leaves or needles from any part of the stem that will be inserted into the oasis.

When inserting anything into the oasis, take care to push the stem only once; avoid pulling it back out to reseat it. This causes an air pocket between the stem end and the foam, and the plant won’t get water from the oasis.

Begin at the bottom of the display, layering greenery in a circle as a foundation for the design. Work around the arrangement in an upward circle to place material into the foam. If arranging for the center of a table, keep the design low to avoid obstructions to conversations with those on the other side of the table. Mist your arrangement daily.

This post was previously published in the Boulder Camera, Longmont Times-Call, and Loveland Reporter-Herald.

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With apologies to Frank Loesser, his song, Baby It’s Cold Outside, has been running through my head with a few changes:

We really can’t sleigh (baby it’s dry outside)

The warmth’s got to go away  (baby it’s dry outside)

This winter we’ve been (hoping that snow’d drop in)

Not very nice (I’ll warm up the hose, it’s stopped up with ice)

Trees aren’t the only thing that need water in a dry winter – and boy, is it dry.  The federal Climate Prediction Center has said most of the Front Range and all of eastern Colorado is in a moderate drought.  We’ve gotten just a whisper of water since July, so monthly watering of your landscape is a must. 

In a previous post, how to water your trees was described, but lawns, too, need a drink.  “Established lawns will benefit from watering, but the critical ones that need moisture are the ones that are new,” says Dr. Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist with Colorado State University Extension.  If you put down sod after September 15, you should water it. 

Even if you don’t have a new lawn, watering the grass is important, and if you’ve been plagued by lawn mite problems in the past, water that yard soon, he said.  “This is when mite populations start to rise, especially on warm days when they get a little active and frisky.  They’re frisking around, the population starts to rise, and though mites haven’t started to damage the lawn, their potential to do so increases with their numbers.”  Mites prefer bone-dry grass, so hold them at bay with moisture. 

To water a lawn in winter, warm days with temperatures above 45-degrees is a must.  Fortunately we have plenty to choose from, since we’re in the 50’s and 60’s several days per week.

Drag out your hose with a sprinkler, or set the water to a slow trickle.  “The problem is that everything is frozen, but you don’t want water puddling on the lawn.  And the worst thing is forming a layer of ice on it; that really harms the turf.  So it probably won’t take more than a quarter to half-inch of water before you get standing water and puddles.”

Set your timers to tell you when to move the hose or shut off the water.  Most importantly, disconnect the hose from the house before evening so you don’t run the risk of frozen pipes.

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When the tool shed is full and you’re shopping for someone whose needs are dirt simple, what do you give them?  Wrap up something different this year, by giving the gift of time, luxury, or knowledge.

Your Edible Gardening Workshop, offered by the  Colorado State University Extension offices of Larimer, Adams, Weld, and Boulder, is a one-day immersion into food gardening.  The basics of soil, water, and plant selection are explored, along with seminars on specialty crops, like strawberries, tree fruit and brambles.  This all-day workshop is Saturday, Jan. 22, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ranch in Loveland, and costs only $65.  Lunch is not included.  Call 970-304-3565 for more information or to register your gardener.

The Denver Botanic Gardens has a wide assortment of classes to fit every gardener.  From botanical illustration to cooking with aromatic herbs, you’re sure to find a class your loved one will adore.  Browse their online catalog for winter classes to inspire your gardener, then enroll them and wrap up the certificate for under the tree.

Gifts of time, guidance and comfort can be just right for the gardener on your list this holiday season.

One of the hallmarks of an obsessed gardener is that we like to dream, especially in winter when we’ve forgotten the insects, disease and heat that had us complaining in summer.  Our eyes are ever forward, so give your loved one a book to pour over on chilly days:

The Encyclopedia of Container Plants,” by Ray Rogers and Rob Cardillo (Timber Press, $34.95) is a richly photographed exploration of successful container gardens.  Featuring over 500 plants, this is one book that does double duty as both coffee table eye candy and valuable resource.

Edible Landscaping,” by Rosalind Creasy (Sierra Club Books, $39.95), is the long awaited update of the 1982 groundbreaking book exploring the combination of landscape design, permaculture, and edible plants.  Hot off the press, this is the book for anyone who wants to make beautiful, functional, landscapes.

When you have your hands in the dirt, nails and fingers can turn as rough as sandpaper.  A basket of salves makes a welcome gift.  Pull together Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream ($6), Crabtree and Evelyn’s Gardener’s Hand Therapy lotion ($15), and Dr. Bronner’s Organic Shikakai Lavender Hand Soap ($8.99), then wrap them up for your gardener.  For an added touch, slip in a gift certificate for a manicure.

What I love is the gift of time, because no matter how well equipped a gardener is, they could always use a little more.  Surprise yours by giving them a hand in the garden; wrap up a certificate good for spring cleanup, flower pot planting, or mulching.  But don’t be fooled: this isn’t a cheap gift to give. A day spent rototilling or pruning is sure to leave you grimy, sweaty, and scratched.  Your gardener will love it.

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger. 

Note to FCC:  the above suggestions were not solicited by the companies.

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Weather experts are predicting a mild winter this year, with above average temperatures and less snowfall.  Though “warmer” doesn’t mean it’s time to plan a luau for Christmas, scant snowfall and sunny days put your trees at risk from sunburn and dehydration.

So as you string your holiday lights, unpack your soaker hoses and break out the tree wrap, it’s time to get your plants ready for winter sunshine.  The secret to keeping trees healthy throughout the year lies in giving them moisture during the dormant season, and protect them from sunscald.       

What: Sun hitting trunks of young, thin barked trees warms the bark and cells underneath, causing them to lose their cold protection. As nighttime temperatures plunge, these cells freeze and burst, resulting in sunscald, an area that will be prone to disease in summer.

How:  Protect them for the first two to three years they’re in your landscape by wrapping them with tree wrap. Wrap from the ground upward, overlapping each layer over the lower one by one-half-inch until you reach the lowest branch. Use tape to hold the wrap in place, making sure the tape doesn’t stick to the trunk.  Mark your calendar to remove the wrap around April 15. 

Dragging wet hoses and getting sprayed with water can put a damper on anyone’s holiday mood, but with a little planning, winter watering can be a snap.

When:  Water once per month through March if we don’t have much snow or rain.  The lingering fall is keeping soil soft, letting rain soak in, but once temperatures get colder and the ground freezes, giving the trees a drink means watching the weather. 

Measure the snowfall at your house with a ruler to figure your plants’ watering needs. Write each storm’s accumulation on your calendar and add it up every four weeks.  Anything less than 12 inches of snow, total, means it’s time to water. 

How:  Pick a day when temperatures are above 40 and there’s no snow on the ground.  On frozen ground, water should be applied slowly, so spiral a soaker hose under the tree or use soft spray nozzle if watering by hand.  Have a timer on the faucet automatically shut off soaker hoses or plan on setting timers in the house to remind you to turn off water.

Tip:  Always disconnect hoses from faucets immediately after watering to prevent frozen pipes.  Plan to water at a time when you will be home to monitor temperatures, and water during the warmest part of the day.

Where:  Water around the dripline of the tree – the area that falls under the outer tips of the branches.   Soak the ground two to three feet on either side of the dripline, to a depth of 12 inches.  If using a soil needle, insert it no more than eight inches deep.  The roots that take up water are in the top 12 inches of the soil.

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

Make room, gardeners, the season for houseguests has arrived. For these, rearranging the furniture and cleaning the windows is a must, and if you slip something extra into their water they won’t mind.

Houseplants have regained their place on windowsills and counters, brought in from the patios and decks where they spent the summer. With a little understanding and prepping the house for their visit, your foliaged friends will be happy all winter long.

When the plant is brought inside, do you stick it into an unused corner of the room or a place that needs a little more ‘meaning’? This is a common mistake, since those spaces are already empty of clutter. But don’t leave your plant huddling in a cold, dark corner — that’s the last place to put your houseplant.

Think of your plant as royalty and choose a bright, sunny location away from drafts or heaters to place it. Move the furniture if you have to, to give your plants the pick of your home’s sunbeams. And get ready to clean. Houseplants are not overly demanding -they don’t care if the carpet is stained or the dishes need doing — instead, all they really want are good, clear windows.

Light is critical for houseplants to thrive, yet because the amount of light needed varies from species to species, deciding where to put it can be a challenge. Check the plant tag for guidance on low (limited), medium (indirect or bright), or high (direct) light requirements and place the plant in the right spot, or add supplemental lighting.

As a rule of thumb, low-level light rarely strikes the leaves and typically comes from north facing windows. Medium, or indirect light, is when light strikes the foliage for less than four hours per day. Through winter, medium light comes from east and west facing windows.

High or direct light is as it sounds — light falls across the plant for a minimum of four hours daily. Plants that love these conditions should be placed in a south-facing window. Distance from the window plays a role in light levels also, so keep your plants within two feet of the window. Further away and light levels fall off rapidly.

The dry interior of homes is particularly stressful to many of our tropical houseplants, which need more humidity than is present in houses. Although misting the foliage is one way to approach this, it doesn’t provide steady humidity and must be repeated throughout the day.

An easier approach is to place a pebble tray filled with water under the plant. Simply take a tray and layer small stones evenly along the bottom, then fill with enough water to reach the top of the stones. Place potted plants on this tray, but take care that the water is not touching the pot itself. Most houseplants should not be placed in standing water.

Refill the pebble tray often to keep the humidity levels even, and group plants closely together. Water vapor coming off the soil or clay pots adds to the air moisture of the happy group.

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