Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Made in the Shade

 Location, Location, Location! No, I’m not referring to the value of your home. I am referring to the fact that it is quite likely that you have at least one area of your garden, patio, or balcony where your shade plants struggle.  That might be due to large trees, other houses, and buildings, or just the placement of your house.  Don’t despair—there are solutions.

First, let’s define some terms.  If your plant label indicates ‘sun,’ then your plant should have a least six hours of sun available each day.  For ‘part shade,’ your plants should probably be able to tolerate 3 to 6 hours of morning sun.  Those plants listed as ‘shade,’ should be able to tolerate up to 3 hours of morning sun.  Of course, there are variations among plants, and you should always observe how your plants react to the sun and shade.  Just remember that morning sun is always tolerated better than afternoon sun in the Metroplex.

It is preferable to establish your plants before the extreme heat of the summer.  Now is the time to make your plans and plant those new beauties.  It is always a good practice to search for regional information about your new plants.  Remember that a plant labeled for ‘full sun’ in Iowa is generally not happy in our full sun.  There are many great resources of information on the Internet, and one of my favorites is the Lady Bird Wildflower Center (www.wildflower.org).  Other sources include local nurseries and longtime gardeners.

Another important aspect of your part-shade garden that must not be overlooked is mulching.  Most plants benefit from a layer of mulch.  It will help prevent weeds, maintain a constant soil temperature, and cut down on the frequency of watering.

The amount of sun an area receives can be affected by seasonal shade.  This is a result of large, deciduous trees which provide deep shade during the months in which they are fully leafed. Planning a garden during the winter months without taking into consideration seasonal shade can lead to despair.

If your garden is shaded during the morning, but in full sun in the afternoon, it must be considered a sunny area.  Generally, those plants listed as ‘part shade’ can only tolerate some morning sun. The afternoon sun in the Metroplex is just too intense.

Once you have determined the number of hours of morning sun your garden receives, then you can successfully plan and maintain your shade garden.  The basic rules for determining shade gardens are:

          Dense shade – no sun

          Shade – less than 3 hours of morning sun

          Part Shade – 3 to 6 hours of morning sun

There are grades of sun and shade tolerance for various plants.  If you determine that your plant is not responding well, then it may be time to move it to a new location.

Space in this article is limited, so rather than discuss each plant, I have included a pdf of a recent presentation.  This listing is by no means all-inclusive.  It includes a few that may be new to you as well as a few old standards.  I hope you will take time to scroll thru these pictures and descriptions of a few plants that are truly ‘made in the shade.’  Happy gardening in the shade!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Since gardening outside is limited in the winter, most of us continue our addiction inside.
So how are your house plants doing?  Those who have south-facing windows are probably saying “we’re good.”  For the rest of us, the answer is “don’t ask.”  Several years ago, I bought myself a combination birthday/anniversary/Christmas gift, and I’ve never regretted it.  I bought a 3-tier Sunlite Garden from Gardener’s Supply.  I enjoyed it so much that I later added a second one.  What is supposed to be my Living Room is my Winter Getaway Room.  When the days are short, and the weather is chilly, nothing is more enjoyable than tending and observing my plants.

But I’m not here to sell you anything.  If you want houseplants that will do well in areas with limited light, please consider one of the following succulent options.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia called the ZZ Plant is perfect for a grand statement.  It will thrive on neglect and not miss you when you go on vacation.  Its shiny leaves provide a cheery note to a dark corner, but it will also flourish in bright light.  Use a well-draining soil and don’t overwater this amazing plant.

Another plant that will survive in almost any light is the familiar Sansivieria, also known as Mother-in-law’s Tongue or Snake Plant.
  There are many varieties, and all require well-draining soil and limited water.  Find an attractive pot for this lovely plant, and you will be pleased with the results.  Just remember that you must not overwater it and only fertilize with cactus fertilizer in the spring.

Many haworthias are also excellent choices for low-light areas.  These dwarf succulents are amazing.  All require well-draining soil and limited water.  A top dressing of small pebbles or tumbled glass will enhance the appearance.

One of the most familiar is Haworthia fasciata or Zebra Plant.  Its name is derived from the white stripes on the dark green leaves.  Although it remains small, the Zebra Plant will produce new offsets. 

Another interesting one is Haworthia attenuata ‘Concolor.’  This bright green specimen is covered with tiny, white, raised dots.  The new offsets can be left to form a larger clump or separated to share with friends.

Haworthia retusa is a lovely, easy-to-grow form.  Its triangular leaves are almost translucent.  There are several varieties, and you will love all of them.

If I say ‘aloe,’ most will respond ‘vera,’ but I want you to consider other varieties.  These succulents also require well-draining soil and limited water, and they will tolerate low light areas.  Aloes do bloom but are primarily grown for their interesting foliage.  Many hybrids have been developed, so don't become caught up too much in the names.

Aloe humilis is called Spider Aloe with its leaves extending in all directions.
  The gray-green color is enhanced by the white ‘teeth’ along the edges.  It will occasionally produce orange and yellow blooms.

Many of the aloes are edged with red teeth.
  Aloe Christmas Sleigh is a striking example and has dark green leaves with red teeth along the edges and red bumps on the leaves. 

Aloe Blizzard lives up to its name.  The leaves are shades of white and green with white teeth along the edges.  This variety will multiply, and you can enjoy the bounty or share with a friend.

None of these plants thrive in darkness, so you may want to play ‘musical plant chairs’ to keep them happy.  I do hope you will try one of many of these beautiful succulents as we begin this new year with hope and optimism.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!  

Sunday, December 6, 2020


Two for the Price of One!  That sounds like a great deal, especially for those plant addicts who just may have exceeded their horticultural budgets.  

So, you may have mastered propagation by rooting plants in soil & perlite/vermiculite, by division, and even by simple layering.  But, have you ever tried air layering?  Before you stop reading, please believe me that it isn’t as difficult as it may sound, and you will produce a beautiful, full-grown plant from your effort.

You have probably found that some plants are difficult to reproduce.  They don't produce viable seeds, and you can’t just make a tip cutting and root it in water or even a soil mix.  The answer is air layering. 

The tools you will need include:  a sharp blade, moistened sphagnum moss, rooting hormone, plastic wrap, twist ties, and some aluminum foil. Of course, you also need the “mother plant” which will produce the new plant.  Gather your tools for the procedure.  Having a friend to help can also be useful.  There are variations of this procedure, but this one has worked for me. 

On your plant, choose a healthy limb that is at least twelve inches long.  The plant can be potted or in the ground.  The best time of year is early spring, but it can be done most other times as well.  Spring is preferable because plants are actively growing.  If it is a houseplant, most any time is acceptable.

For this project, I chose a Ficus elastica (Rubber Tree).  With a sharp blade, score around the selected limb (just deeply enough to cut thru the outer bark layer).  Now drop down about 1 inch and repeat the scoring completely around the limb.  Then cut in a straight line from one score to the other.  At this point, you should be able to peel the one-inch outer layer off and expose the inner layer. 

Apply a thin layer of powdered rooting hormone to the entire exposed area. Wrap a “handful” of damp sphagnum moss around the entire exposed area.  Hold the moss in place with plastic wrap. Secure the plastic wrap with twist ties or twine.  It should be very firm so that movement does not occur.  The hormone-coated, plastic-wrapped area should then be covered with a sheet of foil which is crimped to secure it. 

The moss must be kept damp, so pour a small amount of water into the core about once a week.  This can be accomplished by just slightly releasing the top twist tie and then securing it again.   After 4-5 weeks, roots should begin to appear.  After numerous roots appear, you may cut the stem just below the roots.

You have successfully produced a new copy of the mother plant.  Prepare a pot and plant your new baby.  As you accomplish this new propagation method, you will feel a great deal of pride and confidence.  Like so many other new things, air layering isn’t that difficult, and I hope you will try it soon.




Sunday, November 15, 2020


Nature-Inspired Holiday Decorations

How would you like to have more fun, spend less money, and save valuable resources?  

Then, I have some ideas you might appreciate.  

First, here’s what some are facing.

Let's avoid being that guy!   

Survey your surroundings

Make a promise to yourself today:  “I will NOT allow the holidays to cause me stress.”

There are so many ways to enjoy nature.  Take a walk and enjoy your surroundings.  Collect those items which make you smile.   Then simply arrange some of your found objects in a pretty container.   

Be creative and have fun!

And after you have created your own natural object, take a photo and share it with your friends.  
Then take some time to reach out to friends and family.  
Make that phone call; write that note.  
Remember we need to isolate now so that we can gather next year and no one is missing. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020


No, I am not Marie Antoinette, but I do behead my succulent plants.  Before you call the authorities, please let me explain.  As you probably know, I love succulents.  And as you also probably know, succulents can become leggy.  So, here’s the solution along with a perk!

If you have non-cold hardy (soft) succulents, they may grow beautiful rosettes during the summer.  But when the cold weather approaches and it’s time to bring them inside, you face a dilemma—"what to do with the beautiful rosettes on a long stem?”.

You have two options.  You can leave the leggy stem and rosette intact, or you can take out the tools for the decapitation.  That sounds so cruel, but it really isn’t.  Think about your summer perennials.  They always look better after you deadhead the spent flowers, and basically that is what you are doing with your succulents.  Additionally, you will be gaining a new plant from this surgical procedure.

The newly-cut rosette will become a new plant.  You will have two, or you can share one with a friend.  After beheading your succulent, simply lay it in a brightly-lighted area for at least 4-5 days to allow the newly cut area to callous.  Then you can plant it directly into a pot of well-draining succulent mix.

Alternately, you can place it in a decorative bowl or pot filled with pebbles and use it as a decorative plant in your home.  I used one in this way for about six weeks.  At the conclusion, the cutting had begun to root, and I then placed it in a pot of succulent soil.

Succulents like to be dry.  When friends tell me they cannot grow succulents, I usually respond that “they love them to death.”  In their zeal to help the succulents live, they overwater and/or don't give them enough light.

So, give beheading (your succulents) a try.  I think you will be pleased.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020


With several hundred existing species, there’s a lot to like about Hibiscus.  Whether they are short or tall, annual or perennial, fancy or plain, we all have our favorites.  One of my favorites is the frilly Hibiscus schizopetalus.

Hibiscus are versatile; some can be grown either in soil or in water.  For example, the perennial Texas Star Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) is quite happy in our Dallas clay soil, but it is equally happy as a water plant in a pond.

Some Hibiscus flowers such as Lord Baltimore can measure 10 inches across.  Give these beauties a little extra water in the summer months, and they will reward you with plentiful blooms.  

Hibiscus can be propagated in two different ways.  The first (taking vegetive cuttings) should be done in early summer.  Taking 4 to 6 inch cuttings and rooting them in 50/50 potting soil/perlite with extra moisture is not difficult.  If you have not tried this method, there are numerous videos online which may be useful.  If your Hibiscus is an annual, you should try this method.  Of course if you have space, you can always bring the plant inside for the winter.  

The second method is by planting mature seeds.  Do not pick the seed pods until they are brown and dry.  Remember, too, that some seeds may not be viable.  Also, some seeds do not reproduce true offspring.  After you have taken the seeds from the pods, place them in a glass of water.  Those seeds which float are probably not viable; the ones that sink should be fine.  Then heat about a cup of water to near-boiling.  Toss the seeds into the hot water and allow them to soak for 12 to 24 hours.  The seeds are then ready to plant.  Cover the seeds with about ¼ inch fine soil.  Keep the soil moist in a warm area (75 to 85 degrees).  The seeds should germinate in about two weeks.  New seedlings (even those which are perennial) must be protected from frost.  Seedlings should be moved into larger pots as they mature.

When you plant your mature Hibiscus outside, as with most plants, mulching around the base is important.  A layer of about 3 inches of mulch will help maintain moisture during the summer and keep the roots healthy during the winter.  It will also add nutrients to the soil and help prevent weeds from emerging in the spring.

Unfortunately, several garden pests also like Hibiscus, so be vigilant with an application of insecticidal soap or neem at the first sign of uninvited guests.  Pruning to shape your plant can be done anytime, but save the heavy pruning for late winter.  Cut the plant back to nearly ground level.  They like hot weather, so do not despair in the spring when they do not show life until April or May.  The phrase “some like it hot” truly applies to Hibiscus.  

So find a sunny spot in your garden, and add some fun with the perfect Hibiscus! 😊

Sunday, October 4, 2020


Scarifying Seeds  🎃

It may sound like Halloween, but scarifying seeds has nothing to do with the 'trick or treat' frenzy.  If you have ever tried and failed to germinate a large, dense seed, it may be that you should have scarified it.  All seeds have a coat to protect the seed embryo; however, some seeds have a very thick, hard coat.  Those seeds in nature may take years to germinate.  Some seeds are eaten by birds, and the acidic digestive juices help break down this coating.  Other seeds may go thru one or more seasons of freezing and thawing in order to break the covering.  Below are Texas Ebony seed pods.  The dried pod is as hard as some wood, and the seed is almost equally hard.

So how can you germinate these seeds without waiting for years?  First, remove the seeds from the pods.  Then you should determine which end of the seed has the remnant of attachment.  Next you should concentrate on scarifying (scratching) the opposite end.  Scarifying can be accomplished in several ways.  I prefer using some form of sandpaper, emery board, or some similar abrasive object.  The goal is to just file enough to break thru the seed coating.  There is generally a difference in color between the seed coat and the internal part of the seed.  You should not abrase it too deeply; you may harm the seed embryo.  If you look closely, you can see a small, scarified area that is slightly lighter on the seed below.  I scratched it with an emery board.  That scarified area will allow the water to penetrate the seed coat.  

Once you have completed this step, you should soak the seeds in water for about 24 hours.  During this time, you may observe the seed swell slightly (a good sign).  Water must penetrate the seed coat for germination to occur.  (Hint: generally, if the seeds sink to the bottom of the water container, they are viable; if they do not sink, they probably are not viable.)  Finally, the seed will be directly planted in a  pot and be kept in the greenhouse over the winter as it germinates.  


Next time I will discuss how to propagate Hibiscus plants from seeds. 😊