Summering Houseplants Outside

Almost all houseplants will enjoy spending the summer in the fresh air — just don’t rush them out too fast. Many are of tropical or subtropical origin, and they’re very sensitive to cold. “Not freezing” is not warm enough for them to be comfortable.

Though there are a few — including ardisia, bay laurel, camellia, citrus, clivia, ivies, Norfolk Island pine, scented geraniums, oleander, and Christmas and Thanksgiving cactuses — that can go outside once night temperatures are consistently about 40ºF, most should wait until the night lows will not drop below 50º.

And cold is not the only thing to be cautious about. The plants may look as if a good jolt of sun would cheer them up, but after they have acclimated to an indoor winter’s much lower light levels, they could suffer from scalded leaves when suddenly thrust into full sunlight. Indoors, the light-gathering material in the leaf cells turns to offer the maximum surface area to the limited light. Outside, this material takes some time to reorient. Full sun before the change takes place will overwhelm the cells, bleach the chlorophyll, and generally wreak havoc.

Start by putting the plants out in the shade for a short period, then lengthen the time each day for about two weeks. Besides the obvious spot under a tree, consider the shady north side of a wall or fence, or beneath a patio umbrella. In fact, you may want to leave them there for the duration. Even after they are acclimated, most houseplants do best in dappled shade, not full sun.

Magnolias are blooming

My Magnolia in bloom in 2013

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

For anyone who has visited the South, the memory of those beautiful magnolia trees in full bloom is something you want to copy at home. Although the Magnolia grandiflora, with its creamy white flowers and huge, waxy leaves cannot grow in our area of Wisconsin, there are many species that have been engineered to grow in colder zones, including zone 5 where we are. I have a Royal Star Magnolia that is about 20 feet tall and produces the most beautiful and fragrant flowers every year. As a matter of fact, it’s starting to bloom today (April 7).

This one is hardy even to zone 4 so our Wisconsin winters should not be an excuse to avoid planting one of these stunning trees in your garden. Just make sure it has plenty of sun if you want those gorgeous blossoms.

Not a fan of white, maybe you could try one of the many magnolia species available now for cold weather areas.

M. acuminata x M. denudata, or Magnolia ‘Butterflies’, is hardy to zone 4 and reaches 15-20 feet in height. In the spring, it’s covered with beautiful canary yellow blossoms – giving the impression of hundreds of butterflies. Magnolia x soulangeana, or Saucer Magnolia, comes in shades of pink, white, and pink with a slight purple blush.

For those of us in cold weather zone 5, the addition of magnolia trees to the vast array of spring-blooming trees adds color, fragrance, and a lilt in our step that means spring is finally here!

For tips on planting a magnolia tree: visit our previous post

Happy Easter

For Christians, this is the most Holy week of the year, culminating in Easter Sunday where the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated. There are many traditions that accompany this season — neither of which have anything to do with the actual celebration.

First, we have the Easter Bunny. One theory of the Easter Bunny’s origins is that it stemmed from early pagan celebrations around the vernal equinox, says Time. Pagans celebrated the springtime renewal of life as well as the goddess of dawn and fertility, Eostre, who was often represented by the hare or an egg. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, the celebrations around the vernal equinox may have merged with the observance of Christ’s resurrection, since they both occurred around the same time. Missionaries were said to blend pagan traditions with Christian holidays to make the transition smoother, so it is possible that the celebrations of Eostre and the resurrection of Christ became one. Regardless of its origins, the hiding of Easter eggs for the little kids to find is a time-honored tradition and one that is anticipated eagerly every year (along with Cadbury eggs!).

Second, this is the time of year when Easter lilies are found in abundance in every store you enter. Historically speaking, Easter lilies have nothing much to do with the holiday with which it is so strongly associated. It is not native to the Holy Land. The best case that can be made for the Easter lily as a symbol for the Resurrection is that lilies are mentioned in the Bible, and that white flowers such as Easter lilies have long been used to represent purity. It is not the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum), however, that is specifically mentioned in the Bible, since Easter lilies traveled west only much later from their native Japan (the Ryukyu Islands). The common plant name given to them at first was “Bermuda lily,” because Bermuda was a hot spot for their production in the nursery trade.

Refer to previous posts to learn more about this beautiful and beloved plant:

April Fool’s Day

April Fools’ Day is one of the most widely recognized non-religious holidays…but why? What is the origin of this day and its traditions?

Apparently, the origin of April Fools’ Day is up for debate. The tradition is apparently older than 1708 which is when we have the first recorded mention. In a 1708 letter to Britain’s Apollo magazine it asks, “Whence proceeds the custom of making April Fools?” Apparently, in 1708 the origin wasn’t widely known either.

One possibility is that it evolved from Hilaria which was a Roman tradition held in late March during the equinox. The festivities included games, processions, and masquerades.

In 1561, a Flemish poet wrote about a nobleman who sends his servant back and forth on ludicrous errands in preparation for a wedding feast (the poem’s title roughly translates to “Refrain on errand-day / which is the 1st of April”).  The first mention of April Fools’ Day in Britain comes in 1686 when biographer John Aubrey described April 1st as a “Fooles holy day.” On April Fools’ Day in 1698, a prank was played on hundreds who were tricked into going to the Tower of London to watch the “washing of the lions” (a ceremony that doesn’t exist). The April 2nd edition of a local newspaper had to debunk the hoax —and publicly mock those who fell for it.

In the spirit of April Fools’ Day, here’s some of the greatest historical pranks, practical jokes, and hoaxes according to Reader’s Digest:

·       1400’s: Thomas Betson, the prankster-monk, pulls off one of the earliest documented practical jokes when he hides a beetle inside a hollowed-out apple and fools his fellow monks into believing that the mysteriously rocking apple is possessed.

·       1835: The Great Moon Hoax is the first big media trick. The New York Sun prints an article claiming that astronomers have discovered life on the moon. More articles appear over the next few weeks, and the country is gripped by moon fever.

·       1938: Orson Welles’s radio broadcast of War of the Worlds convinces millions of listeners that earth is under attack by aliens.

·       1957: A BBC News documentary about the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest depicts farmers pulling strands of spaghetti from trees. The network is deluged with callers asking where they can buy a spaghetti tree.

·       1959: Alan Abel dreams up a campaign calling for animals to wear clothing, and the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals is born. Spokesperson G. Clifford Prout appears on Today to promote the group’s catchy slogan: “A nude horse is a rude horse.” Eventually, 50,000 concerned citizens sign its petition, and even Walter Cronkite is fooled—until it’s discovered that Prout is actually comedian Buck Henry.

·       1962: The broadcasting technician for Sweden’s lone television station appears on the news to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers can convert the existing black-and-white broadcasts into color. All they have to do is pull a nylon stocking over their TV screen. Thousands try it.

·       1978: Residents of Sydney, Australia, gawk at an iceberg floating in Sydney Harbor on April 1, which electronics entrepreneur Dick Smith claimed he towed from Antarctica. The Australian navy even offer their help in mooring it. Eventually, everyone realizes it’s just a barge covered in white plastic and fire-fighting foam.

·       1980: The BBC World Service (then called oversea’s service) reports that each of Big Ben’s four faces would be changed to a digital display and its iconic hands would be given away to the first four callers. While most listeners are shocked and angry, one Japanese seaman immediately calls to claim his prize.

·       1985: Sports Illustrated runs a story about Sidd Finch, a Mets rookie pitcher with odd training methods who can throw a baseball 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy, even though he’s never played the game before. Instead, he mastered the “art of the pitch” in the mountains of Tibet. In reality, Finch exists only in the mind of the author George Plimpton.

·       1996: Taco Bell announces it has bought the Liberty Bell and is renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Outraged citizens complain to the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, where the bell is housed.

·       1997: The chemical compound DHMO is “colorless, odorless, and kills thousands of people every year” through “accidental inhalation,” reads a widely circulated e-mail, calling for a ban. Furthermore, it’s now “a major component of acid rain” and is “found in almost every stream, lake, and reservoir in America.” One California town becomes so alarmed that residents debate banning foam cups, which are shown to contain DHMO. They nix the idea upon learning that DHMO is actually water.

·       1998: Burger King introduces a new item to its menu: the Left-Handed Whopper, specially designed for southpaws. According to the company, the new Whopper includes the same ingredients as the original version, but all the condiments are rotated 180 degrees.

·       2004: At the annual Yale-Harvard football game, Yale students, dressed as the Harvard pep squad, distribute placards to their rival’s fans. On cue, the Harvard faithful lift them up and unwittingly spell “We Suck.”

Enjoy your day!

“Cottage” Container Gardens

by Vicki Schilleman

Love the look of an English Cottage garden, but short on space? You can try for the same look using containers. These suggestions are for containers that enjoy a lot of sunshine. You can grow almost any sun-loving annual except space hogs like sunflowers. To get the cottage garden effect, be sure that the heights are varied, that some of the flowers are lacy, and that the colors are mostly pale ones, with bright reds, oranges, and pinks acting as accents rather than the main event.

Suitable plants include “patio” types of cherry tomato, dwarf dahlias, heliotrope, lantana, love-in-a-mist, blue lace flower, white dill, fennel, ageratum, miniature roses, verbena, zinnia, marigolds, petunias, cockscomb, and geraniums.

The containers will look best if they are on the crowded side, but don’t forget that crowding will put even more stress on the plants than simply being in containers (which is already stress enough). They will need more watering than you could ever thought possible, especially in hot, windy weather, and it is a good idea to keep them constantly fed as well. Either mix a timed-release fertilizer such as Osmocote into the planting mix, or add a quarter-strength dose of soluable fertilizer to every third or fourth watering.