Monthly Archives: December 2015

  1. The Advantages of Planting Bare Root Plants

    Have you ever been shocked to find that the tree or shrub you ordered showed up to your door completely naked?  Don't be!  This is what we call a bare root plant, and they come with a number of advantages over their potted and balled-and-bur-lapped (B&B) counterparts.

    Autumn Blaze Maple TT1.5  

    The most obvious advantage?  Bare root plants cost less!  They are cost saving to the merchants, who pass these savings on to you.  Because their packaging is lightweight and stackable, shipping them is a breeze.  Potted and B&B plants must be handled carefully, because their heavy, soil-laden roots can make messes or even cause damage.  Bare root plants don't have this problem.  Furthermore, the lighter packaging means less fuel is needed to transport bare root plants.  That's not only cost-saving, but eco-friendly, too!   Speaking of eco-friendliness, bare root plants have other environmental advantages.  When plants are shipped with soil, microbes can hitchhike along.  These can include insect eggs and other pests that can cause shock damage to your yard.  The mix of microbes in the plant's soil might not integrate well into the mix in your yard's soil, which could delay your new plant's integration into the landscape.  

    In fact, the overall health of your new plants tends to be higher when they are planted as bare root specimens.  Their root bundles tend to be larger and more robust than those shipped in soil.  This helps them get established quicker and grow faster.   Optimized-Birch Clump

    When planting your new tree or shrub, bare roots make it easy.  Potted or B&B plants are heavy, messy, and cumbersome.  With bare roots, you don't have to worry about handling that clump of soil.  You simply spread the roots and plant them in the earth.   Nearly any tree or shrub can be produced as a bare root specimen, including bare root fruit trees.  The leafless, naked look results from uprooting the plant during its natural dormant season.  This is why they are most widely available from autumn to mid-spring.  Uprooting the plants while they are dormant takes advantage of the natural hardiness they employ to combat winter weather.  

    When your bare root plant arrives, you should try to plant it within a week.  Make sure to keep the roots shaded and moist until they are in the ground; it's important that they don't dry out.  Prior to planting, soak the roots for 12-24 hours (in the shade!) to ensure that they are supple and give the plant a head start.  After soaking, spread the roots out and prune off any damage.  Next, dig a hole with rough edges.  It should be big enough to accommodate the expanded root bundle without overcrowding it.  If it's a bare root shrub, backfill it, water copiously, fortify with mulch, and you're done.  If it's a bare root tree, follow the steps for alignment like you would with any other tree.  Keep it vertical while backfilling, water copiously, and then you may want to steady it until it gets established.  Two or three stakes around the tree securing it with soft rope should do the trick.  

    Planting bare root plants is not so different from planting potted or B&B plants, but the results can be remarkably advantageous.  They settle in faster and grow quicker.  They don't bring any unwanted little visitors to your yard.  And the cost cutting and environmental impact are worth it on their own.  So, the next time you find a nice bargain on a beautiful, air-cleaning tree or shrub, don't be surprised if it comes to you naked.  That just means it's ready to go!  

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  2. Dwarf Citrus Tree: A Perfect Accent for Your Baby's Room

    Indoor Citrus Tree

    Gearing up the nursery involves a lot of tough choices. After all, you and your baby will be spending a lot of time in there. You want it to be as healthy as possible for your little one, but also comfortable and decorative. There's no better way to achieve all of that than houseplants. Houseplants are nice decorative accents, and are well known for improving air quality, as they produce clean oxygen from their leaves.

    Choosing the right plant for your child's room is important. You want something that will be safe, non-toxic, and thrive in the nursery environment. Dwarf citrus trees are a good fit for the job. They actually require a lot of the same environmental conditions as babies! Like infants, citrus trees prefer a room that's 65-70 degrees F, without sudden fluctuations in temperature. They like a lot of sunlight (around 8-12 hours a day if possible), and grow best when placed in front of a south or southwest facing window, casting a nice dappled shade into the room.


    Busy moms, fear not! Citrus trees only need to be watered once or twice a week. They can also let you know if the air humidity in the room is right for your baby's health. If they are requiring more water than recommended, then the air is dry. If there's dew collecting on the leaves, its a sign that there's too much moisture in the air and you should turn your humidifier down. Generally, citrus trees like a moderately humid environment, like what's recommended for baby's room. Many dwarf citrus trees on the market have no thorns, barbs, or spikes. Their leaves have dull edges and the entire plant is non-toxic to humans. However, like many houseplants, some citrus species are toxic to cats and dogs. It's always important to keep your houseplants out of reach of any pernicious pets who are prone to sampling leaves.


    Dwarf citrus trees look like babies themselves, but the truth is that they are mature plants specially designed to be grown indoors. Their dwarf rootstock prevents them from growing taller than a few feet. A properly grown dwarf tree from a good vendor will never outgrow your space, so you can watch your little one get taller than his tree.

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  3. Fruit Tree Pollination: Does Your Fruit Tree Need a Friend?

    Many fruit trees require a pollinator, but what does that mean exactly?   Although there are fruit trees out there that are self fruitful (like some cherry tree varieties for example), others will require a recommended pollinator in order to produce fruit (like apple trees). Basically, fruit is produced when the female parts of a flower are exposed to pollen, which is what we mean when we say "pollination."  Pollen is produced by the male parts of the flower.  Some flowers, called "perfect flowers", contain both female parts and pollen-producing male parts.  Plants with perfect flowers can sometimes pollinate themselves, but some have biological blocks in place that prevent self-pollination.  Other plants have flowers that are either male or female.  These require pollen-producing male flowers to be accessible to the female flowers.  Sometimes, male and female flowers grow on the same tree.  In some species, though, male flowers grow on male trees and female flowers grow on female trees.

    Pollen-producing stamen, © 2005 Karwath

    In order for pollination to take place, the flowers have to be compatible, which usually means that they have to be the same species, since every species' pollen is unique. If you want to pollinate an apple tree, you'll need apple pollen. Furthermore, you will want your pollen-producing flowers to bloom at the same time as your fruit-producing flowers.  If the flowers bloom at different times, the pollen from one might not be around when the other is ready to receive it. If you are interested in growing fruit, you will want to find out if your tree's species can self-pollinate.  If not, you will want to find another tree that is compatible.

    © 2007 Guerin Nicolas

    In some cases, just having a source of pollen is not enough. Sometimes you need a pollinator, or an agent that moves the pollen from one flower to another.  For some plants, this can be as simple as wind.  Other plants need birds, insects, or other animals to move their pollen.  It depends on the natural shape of the flowers.  In almost all cases, you can move the pollen yourself, but this can be tedious.  It's best to make your tree available to its natural pollinators and let the wind and wildlife do it for you. For more resources on pollination and compatibility, check with an arborist or your local county extension agency.  If you have a local university with a horticulture department, that is another good resource.  When researching online, keep in mind that .edu websites are the most reliable sources for up-to-date, accurate information.

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    They've been a staple of horror for centuries. Man-eating plants. The silent member of a league that includes vampires, Frankenstein, and werewolves. Man-eating plants have permeated books, news, television, and film. And why shouldn't they? From the ten year old with his "pet Venus Fly Trap" to native tribes wearily moving through unfamiliar jungle, man-eating plants are a primal curiosity and fear.

    Madagascar Man-Eating Tree

    In 1881 a German explorer named Carl Liche wrote about an expedition he took to Madagascar where he witnessed a human sacrifice performed to feed a man-eating tree. The Mkodo tribe and he were traveling through the jungle, when they came upon an unusual looking tree. The tribesman treated it with reverence and motioned for Liche to stay away. A woman was brought forward, and before Liche’s eyes the tree came to life, grabbed the woman and completely consumed her. This myth continued for some time, gaining further life when it was mentioned again in a 1924 book titled, "Madagascar, Land of the Man-Eating Tree". It wasn't until 1955, in the book "Salamanders and other Wonders" that the Man-Eating Tree, the Mkodo Tribe, and even Carl Liche himself turned out to be complete fabrications.

    Madagascar Man Eating Tree

    The Strange Orchid

    In H.G. Wells' short-story "The Flowering of the Strange Orchid", a man named Winter Wedderburn laments that nothing has ever really happened to him. The world is dull and hardly his oyster. To pass the time, he tends to his green house and grows orchids. Attending an Orchid sale, Wedderburn returns with several great finds, including an orchid rumored to have been taken off the corpse of the man who acquired it in the wild. As the strange orchid grows, Wedderburn beams with pride at its beauty. His housekeeper, however, finds the plant creepy and almost... predatory. The day finally comes that the flower blooms. Wedderburn's housekeeper arrives an hour later to find Wedderburn passed out, and the orchid rooted into his veins with its strong, green tendrils. The housekeeper barely saves him, but Wedderburn is still thrilled to have finally had an adventure.

    Venus Fly Trap

    Now for something really real: the Venus fly trap. Plants are green-leafed, inanimate, boring organisms that feed only on sunlight, soil, and water. Right? By that definition then, the Venus Fly Trap isn't even a plant. Perhaps it's some sort of alien creature? (And when you see the one small area where they can be found in the wild, it's obvious how those crazy "falling meteor" rumors started.) The Venus Fly Trap, even when motionless, looks exotic. Each of its leaves ends in what appears to be a mouth, and the coincidental red coloring on its palate enforces the image. And this isn't just any mouth. The Venus Fly Trap's maw appears to be a highly-specialized, carnivorous mouth designed for nothing other than consuming flesh. But beyond this, the Venus Fly Trap has one other special characteristic. It moves. Fast. When the Venus Fly Trap detects repeated movement, its jaw snaps shut. Once its meal has been digested, the jaw reopens, ready to start anew. There is little wonder why the Venus Fly Trap is often called a "pet". Like other carnivorous plants, though, the Venus fly trap isn't actually "eating" its prey.  It traps insects, kills them, and specialized cells inside its "mouth" leach the nitrogen from the insects' bodies.  Usually, plants get nitrogen from the soil. In soil with poor fertility, they have to resort to other means.


    Audrey Jr. or Audrey 2

    Probably the most famous man-eating plants of all time, Audrey Jr./2 (both names are used) has starred in two Hollywood films, a Broadway musical, and even a children's cartoon. Audrey Jr. made its first appearance in the Roger Corman 1960’s B-movie "Little Shop of Horrors". The film reached cult status, which would lead to its various remakes. The plant's origin has ranged all over, from a Venus Fly Trap/Butterwort hybrid to an invader from outer space.

    Audrey Jr 

    The Thing

    In 1938 the science fiction novella "Who Goes There?" was published. It is to this day considered to be one of the greatest science fiction stories of all time. Two movie adaptations have been made (one in 1951 and another in 1982) with a third adaptation on the way. The 1982 version, as can be expected, is much more violent and chilling than its 1950’s counterpart. Surprisingly though, it is the 1982 version with all of its gore that more closely follows the 1938 source material. In the original short-story and 1982 film, "The Thing" itself is a shape-shifting alien. In the 1951 version however, "The Thing" is a highly advanced humanoid plant. Strange "thing" indeed.

    Pitcher Plants

    Another true story! While Venus Fly Traps may be the most famous carnivorous plant, pitcher plants are by far the most common. Unlike many other carnivorous plants, which are found in very specific areas, Pitcher Plants can be found throughout the world. But robustness is not what merits the Pitch Plant's place on this list. Out of all carnivorous plants, Nepenthes, or "Tropical Pitcher Plants", are the only ones capable of consuming mammals. The Nepenthes rajah and the Nepenthes rafflesiana are both known to occasionally consume vertebrate. Pitcher plants catch their prey with "pitcher shaped" leaves filled with water that creatures fall into and drown. The traps of the Nepenthes rajah and rafflesiana are so large that drowned rats, frogs, lizards, birds and even small monkeys have been found within them. Once drowned, the prey creatures dissolve in the corrosive fluid inside the pitcher. The only thing keeping these plants from being man-eaters is their size; they are too small for people to fall into them.



    From the novel and movie "The Day of the Triffids", Triffids are a species of highly venomous, fully mobile, carnivorous plants with an at least basic intelligence. The origin of the plants is never set in stone, but it is strongly suggested that they are the result of experiments within the Soviet Union. Triffids remain rooted when at rest, but are completely capable of uprooting themselves and "walking". In the novel, after their discovery, Triffids are cultivated as a commercial crop. Veritibly harmless, the tables are turned, however, when the majority of human race is rendered blind by a high-altitude weapons misfire.

    Corpse Flowers

    Corpse flowers are not carnivorous, but ironically they may very well be where the legends of jungle-dwelling man-eating plants come from. The Titan Arum and Rafflesia Arnoldii are both enormous flowers that earned their ghoulish nicknames by giving off the scent of rotting flesh. The purpose for this scent is simple. Carrion flowers rely on insects such as flies and beetles for pollination. Since these insects feed on rotting flesh, the smell attracts them. The Titan Arum is an enormous plant, and is in fact the largest flower in the world reaching heights of over nine feet. One can only imagine a native tribe moving through the jungle only to stumble upon a plant nearly twice their size, and reeking of decayed flesh. It wouldn't be hard to assume what the intimidating plant's natural diet must be. Today, carrion flowers are a crown jewel within the world's greatest botanical gardens.


    Whether it be on the stage, in our garden, or even just in our minds, man-eating plants will always be a fixture within humanity's lore.

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    Ever hear of a carnivorous plant? What about a flower that smells like rotting meat when it blooms? It may sound like something out of a horror movie or science fiction novel but these plants really exist. Here is a list of actually real but totally unbelievable plants. 


    10. Amorphophallus titanium, also known as the corpse flower, tops our list not just because it only blooms 3-4 times during its 40 years of life but also because it releases an odor that is much like rotting meat when it does bloom. It is also not difficult to see how it got its name upon closer examination.

     Welwitschia Mirabilis  

    9. The Welwitschia Mirabilis, which is located in Nambibia, is one of the creepiest looking plants. With only two leaves that continue to grow until they resemble something that looks more like an alien than a plant, this is definitely one of the world's strangest plants. The life span of the Welwitschia is between 400-1500 years and is believed to date back to the Jurassic Period.


    8. Heliamphora chimantensis which grows in Venezuela is a carnivorous plant that traps its prey, mostly insects, in the roll of its leaves. Once the prey has been trapped it is digested in a pool of bacteria.  The plant absorbs nutrients from the decaying insects.  

    Drosera capensis  

    7. The Drosera capensis is one of the more delicate looking plants on the list. However, as this pretty plant proves, looks can be deceiving. This native to South Africa traps its prey by a secreting a sticky substance on its leaves. Once its prey is stuck, the long tentacle like leaf folds over to consume it.

    Rafflesia arnoldii

    6. The Rafflesia arnoldii, which is native to Southeast Asia, looks like something out of Willy Wonka's garden. This plant makes the list because it doesn't produce any leaves, stem or roots. Instead it lives as parasite on the Testrastigma vine. Only its flower can be seen.  

    Ficus aurea  

    5. The Ficus aurea, also known as the strangler fig, is native to southern Florida. This fig literally strangles the life out of the unfortunate host tree it decides to grow upon. Not exactly a welcome guest.


    4. Lithops, or living stones, are one of nature's more creative plants. These have evolved to look like stones due to the harsh conditions of their native climate in Namibia and South Africa. Because of long periods of drought, the leaves are made to retain moisture. Their stone like appearance also helps camouflage them from animals looking for dinner.

     Wollemi Pine  

    3. The Wollemi Pine of Australia was believed to be extinct for a number of years. It has only been 14 years since it was discovered in a national park just outside of Sydney. It is believed to be one the oldest trees in existence.

    Mimosa pudica

    2. The Mimosa pudica of Brazil not only produces unusual flowers but also unusual movements. Known as the Sensitive Plant, the mimosa pudica leaves will close and droop when they are touched. It displays the same behavior when it is shaken or dehydrated. 


    1.Dionaea Muscipula, or the Venus fly trap, wraps up our list as one of the world's strangest plants. Two mouth-like leaves shut within a matter of seconds, when the hairs on the inner part of the leaves are disturbed. It the takes the plant about 10 days to digest its prey at which time the leaves reopen, waiting for its next victim.

    Mother Nature is not only responsible for some of the most beautiful creations on the planet, but also some of the most unusual. So, the next time you read about that carnivorous plant and think it is just a work of fiction, remember Mother Nature has an odd sense of creativity.

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  6. Fruit Tree Fertilization

    Fertile soil

    You want the best fruit your fruit tree can give, right? Good fruit comes from fertile soil, so the key is to  maintain soil health.  Sometimes, this means adding fertilizer, but know how to prevent over-fertilizing. Fertilizer in excess can be more damaging than no fertilizer at all. The most practical way of checking soil fertility is by investigating the annual growth of the tree.  If you inspect the branches and follow the branch from the tip to the previous year's growth, you can measure how much the fruiting tree grew in a season. New growth is flexible and green, while last year's growth is darker (often brown) and more rigid.  A mature, fruit-producing tree should have 6-8 inches of vegetative growth each year.  Immature fruit trees grow more quickly, but don't produce fruit.  

    Green, flexible new growth stems

    Soil is "fertile" if it has the right balance of nutrients to support healthy growth.  These nutrients include nitrogen, potassium, and phosphates.  You can find pre-mixed fertilizers at your garden store that include all of these.  For fruit trees, you want a fertilizer packed with phosphates to promote healthy fruit and flower development. A common mistake with home gardeners is to use too much nitrogen, or the wrong type of nitrogen compound.  Nitrogen additives affect the pH of the soil.   If your soil pH is above 7.0, that means it's "basic," and you should use an ammonium-based fertilizer for nitrogen.  If you find that your soil pH is below 7.0, that means it's "acidic" and you should use a nitrate solution for nitrogen.  To learn more about pH and how to test your soil, ask a local horticulturist or agriculture extension agency. A suggested rate of fertilizer to use for each fruit tree is one pound of fertilizer for every inch in trunk diameter. BUT be sure to read the directions on the fertilizer packaging.  Some fertilizers are packaged more concentrated than others.  Fertilization should be done directly before bloom. For most trees, this is around March.  Be sure to know the flowering time of each specific tree, though.  If you purchase your tree from Nature Hills, you can figure this out with a quick look at the product page.

    Healthy fruit on an apple tree

    Don't let all this talk of numbers and pH and nutrients scare you out of buying a fruit tree. Fertilization is much simpler than it sounds.  

    The keys:
    1. Don't over do it!
    2. Phosphates are your friends!
    3. Pay attention to pH!
    4. Read the directions!

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  7. Top 5 Winter Interest Plants

    Winter is the ever-returning friend and foe of gardeners.  You may rue the arrival of Jack Frost every year, driving you inside and sapping all the color from your garden.  But did you know that there are a number of plants that can keep your garden pretty all through the cold season? Looking to liven up your white-washed winter landscape?  Dust the dreariness with one of these winter interest plants:  


    #5 Arctic Fire Dogwood

    During the summer, Arctic Fire Dogwood is your everyday deciduous shrub. Round and green and merry, it is a cute little puffball. When winter comes, its leaves fall away, exposing its fiery red-orange branches.  They spray upward from the snow like fire, boldly defying the cold. 


    #4 Oakland Holly

    Holly is a timeless winter tradition. Stalwart, it stays green all year long.  Its iconic spiney leaves and evergreen cone shape make it a great pop-up in any garden location. It's beautiful as a border, framing an entrance, or simply standing in a field of snow.  The best part?  Its berries arrive in late winter!  Consider them an early burst of color to herald the coming spring.    



    #3 Winter Glow

    Bergenia Winter Glow's leaves don't fall off or die, they simply shift from frog green to deep red.   Want a garden that changes with the seasons?  It's simple: plant a bed of these greens to surround your flowers.  As the cold rolls in and the flowers die back, the Bergenia will start to glow.  


    #2 Fire Chief Arborvitae

    If you're a wildlife lover in a temperate climate, Fire Chief Arborvitae is your friend.  This little red-tipped evergreen grows in sun and shade, a naturally round hedge.   During the winter, it is a valuable source of food and shelter for your garden's visitors.  It'll make your yard a popular spot for migrating birds as well as deer and other non-hibernating herbivores.  


    #1 Cardinal Candy Viburnum

    Taking the crown for winter wonders, Cardinal Candy Viburnum is the full package.  It's cold-hardy (of course), ornamental in every season, and panders to the local wildlife. During the warm seasons, it grows tall and wide and features white flowers.  As autumn falls, its leaves turn burgundy and its flowers turn to bright red fruit that birds love.  The fruits persist throughout the winter, always shining ruby bright.     Winter doesn't always have to win.  Fight back with garden color it can't beat!

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