August Plant of the Month- Tropical Milkweed

August Plant of the Month

Tropical Milkweed

tropical milkweed

Are you bonkers for butterflies? San Antonio just can’t get enough of this stuff! We know butterflies love ’em too, but what the heck are they called? If you said butterfly weed, you’re half right. There are lots of varieties of milkweed, they are sometimes called butterfly weed. Combine common names with a few mislabeled plants and there’s sure to be some confusion. Let’s clear it up a bit, huh? The variety that we carry here at The Garden Center (pictured) is called Tropical Milkweed (Asclepius currasavica). A lot of us here still call it “butterfly weed”. Old habits…

Just the Facts

Tropical Milkweed has bright orange and red clusters of flowers early summer through fall. An herbaceous perennial with upright stalks, it sometimes looks a little skinny as a youngster. Don’t worry, it will get bushier over time. It can get up to 3 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide. This variety is not native to Texas but to Mexico. Even so, it is well adapted to our climate. Grow it in full sun with maybe just a little shade in the afternoon.

This tough little plant is deer resistant and tolerates heat, poor soil and drought. In fact, the easiest way to kill milkweed is by over watering! It has a long taproot that helps it get through dry spells. Tropical Milkweed has no serious pests or diseases except for the occasional rust spots or aphids.

About Those Butterflies

Now lets talk flowers! This butterfly weed attracts, you guessed it…butterflies. Flowers are a nectar source for many bees, hummingbirds, beneficial pollinators. The leaves are also a food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars.

The downside to this particular variety? It blooms well into late summer and fall, which can delay monarch migration. For this reason, you may want to help out by planting other varieties of Asclepius like “tuberosa” or “asperula”. You can also just cut the plants down around September and keep them that way until spring. Read more about the downsides and why you would do all that here.

Placement and Uses

Grow these beauties as a border or a backdrop for other low growing perennials. They are also good for rock gardens or naturalized areas in the landscape. Pair them with other butterfly favorites like Butterfly Bush, Gregg’s Blue Mist Flower or Coneflower.

If you’re feeling adventurous, milkweed has several other uses aside from aesthetics and as a butterfly cafe. Pioneers and native Americans used to boil the roots to treat diarrhea, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Young seed pods were boiled like okra. (A word of warning: Always consult a knowledgeable source before ingesting or topically applying plant concoctions!) And if you’ve got LOTS of time on your hands, the down from milkweed seeds can be spun to make candlewicks. The seed pods are also nice for flower arrangements.

Here at The Garden Center, we carry Tropical Milkweed through the growing season, but with its popularity this year, it’s been hard to keep on the tables! As of this writing, we got ’em. But give us a ring first- just to make sure!

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Awful Aphids!

Awful Aphids!

aphids

Raining Trees?

Have you ever walked underneath a crape myrtle and thought “Oh, it’s sprinkling!” and then wondered why it was only raining under the tree? Hate to break it to ya, but you just got pooped on by aphids. GROSS!

That’s not the only thing you might notice when these tiny pests are around. Aphids are one of our #1 pest complaints here at the nursery. Fortunately, they are not too difficult to get rid of.

How to Spot Them

Aphids are tiny soft bodied critters that suck the sap out of plants. There are over 4,000 different species and are many different colors including green, yellow, brown, black or even red! Some have a smooth body while others have a waxy or woolly coating.

These little beasties will go after any juicy plant available. Some of the signs you might notice are:

  • curled misshapen or yellow leaves
  • deformed flowers or fruit
  • ants hanging out on your plants
  • shiny, sticky looking leaves
  • black powdery leaves

Curly, deformed or yellow leaves may mean aphids are hiding on the underside of the foliage. Go take a peek! They can also damage flowers and fruit as they form. Many times, folks will see ants on their plants and think that they are the culprit.

Here’s the real reason they’re there- ants like to keep aphids as pets! Kinda. It’s more like farming. The ants will protect aphids from predators because they benefit from them. As aphids feed on plant sap they secrete a substance called honeydew. (Remember the raining poopy crape myrtle? That’s really what it is.)

Honeydew is sticky and sweet and ants feed off of it. They even “pet” the aphids to get more of the stuff out of them! This is why you sometimes see wet, shiny looking leaves on plants that are infested. It can also leave a sticky layer of goo on your car or driveway. Honeydew can encourage a fungal growth called sooty mold, hence the black powdery leaves that sometimes appear.

What Now?

So how do you get rid of ’em? There are many easy solutions to aphid issues. Here are a few from simple to hardcore:

  • Is it just a few? Just pinch or snip off the affected leaves.
  • Spray aphids with a hard blast of water. Once you’ve knocked them off, they generally have a hard time crawling up the same plant again.
  • Release the ladybugs! Ladybugs love to eat aphids. Release them at the base of the plant in the evening and say “buh-bye”.
  • Spray ’em with a soapy water solution. Easy peasy.
  • Use diatomaceous earth. This powdery substance is organic and will also keep slugs, beetles and fleas at bay.
  • Use an organic spray such as Spinosad or Insecticial Soap.
  • Use a traditional spray such as Cyonara or any pyrethrin based product.

Still not sure which method to use? Or not sure those are even the right bugs? Bring us a sample and we can help you find the best solution. See ya soon at The Garden Center!

 

 

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July Plant of the Month-Jerusalem Sage

July Plant of the Month

Jerusalem Sage

Oh man, it’s getting hot out there. But here’s one plant that can take the heat without complaining even a little bit. Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticosa) will take that summer sun and turn it into a spectacular show of yellow flowers to stop you in your tracks.

jerusalem sage

Growing to about 3-4 tall and wide, this shrubby semi-evergreen has woolly gray-green leaves with yellow blooms that appear in spring or early summer. You’ll also see butterflies and hummingbirds when you plant this one. Deadheading will encourage it to re-bloom again during the season. Or, leave it alone and let the interesting star shaped seed heads have their moment. The flowers can be cut for bouquets and vases, or used as a dried flower.

Jerusalem Sage is not a true sage plant, but a member of the mint family. Its Mediterranean origins mean that you can count on it tolerating and even thriving in hot, dry spots. Plant in well drained soil in full sun. It is drought tolerant once established and guess what? It’s deer resistant! This plant is easy to care for with few pest or disease problems.

Jerusalem Sage is classified as an herbaceous perennial, but here in good ol’ zone 8a/9, it all just depends on our winter weather. It is usually a semi-evergreen or in a mild winter, you may not notice any missing leaves at all. A hard winter may make it freeze back, but it generally comes back year after year. It is cold hardy to about 23º although it has been reported to survive lower temperatures.

The mounding, bushy growth habit of Jerusalem Sage makes it look great in informal gardens, cottage gardens or in a Mediterranean themed garden. Pair it with santolina, rosemary, lavender, olives or even agave plants. Use this plant as a border, small hedge or in containers. Jerusalem Sage is blooming now at  The Garden Center. Come by and grab one before they’re all gone!

 

 

 

 

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Here’s to the Best Nursery Cat Ever

Here’s to the Best Nursery Cat Ever

No nursery is complete without a cat laying around (or on) your plants. That’s why it is with heavy hearts that we must say goodbye to our four legged friend, Spartacus. What we thought was an upper respiratory infection unfortunately turned out to be cancer. We want to thank Dr. Pavlov, Dr. Peters and all of the caring staff at Pavlov’s Dog and Cat Hospital who helped us take care of Spartacus throughout the years and in his final days.

spartacusSpartacus was not your ordinary nursery cat. He came to The Garden Center as a stray kitten hiding out in the bushes. He would cry to get your attention, but was too shy to come near. It’s safe to say he got over that with time and kibble. We will miss opening up in the morning with him waiting by the door. He was always present at our weekly staff meetings, even though we know he was just there for the tacos.

We could never hide the trays of catnip from him, and before we knew it, we had smushed plants and a happy cat. Spartacus was good at bringing us gifts of mice, lizards and the occasional snake. YIKES! You could never turn on a water hose without Spartacus begging for a drink. In the summer, he liked to be hosed down to cool off. Weirdo. He learned the commands “jump”, “go to your spot”, “shake hands” and could give you a “high five”. If he wasn’t getting enough love and attention, he would chase you down and grab your ankle. He let us do all sorts of goofy things to him for good photo.

We’ll miss dragging him inside at the end of the day to keep him from chasing the raccoons at night. He could be grumpy and unpredictable at times and therefore came with his own warning label. Cats, you know? We’re told that he turned into a Tazmanian devil once when getting his teeth cleaned, but Dr. Pavlov would always still say he was “such a good kitty”. And he’s right. We don’t care what anyone says, Spartacus was the best nursery cat ever.

R.I.P. Spartacus; 2009-June 15th, 2018

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Rosemary- June Plant of the Month

Rosemary

June Plant of the Month

rosemary

Do you love the smell and taste of rosemary? Not only is this woody perennial herb a wonderful ingredient for cooking, it’s easy to grow in your landscape!

What’s the Difference?

There’s lots of different varieties to choose from, all of them are edible! Some varieties grow upright while others spread like a ground cover. Upright varieties can make nice borders or hedges, while trailing varieties look great spilling over a retaining wall or out of a container. At The Garden Center you can often find Tuscan Blue or Barbecue (upright), Prostrate or Lockwood de Forest (trailing). Tiny blue flowers will appear in spring and summer, attracting those oh so beneficial bees!

How to Grow

Rosemary grows best in full sun. Yes, even our San Antonio summer full sun. Its Mediterranean origins mean that it can tolerate lots of heat and drought. It needs well draining soil and good air circulation. Too much water and cramped conditions can cause mildew issues and less flavorful foliage. Another great thing about rosemary is that deer think it’s an acquired taste and won’t bother it.

Uses and Benefits

Grow rosemary along walkways, near patios or in containers. Whenever you brush against them walking by, you’ll release their fragrance. Some say the scent even repels mosquitoes! Here are some other benefits and uses for this awesome herb:

  • Contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds
  • Studies have shown that rosemary may help fight diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s
  • The scent of rosemary improves memory, concentration and mood
  • Can be made into a topical tonic to promote hair growth
  • Improves digestion
  • Can be used as flavoring for meat, bread, deserts, preserved with vinegar or olive oil

It’s no wonder that rosemary was selected as The International Herb Association’s Plant of the Year in 2000. Ready to plant yours? They are available nearly year-round at The Garden Center. Come by and run your hands through them. You won’t be able to resist!

 

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How to Water Your Plants

How to Water Your Plants

You might be saying, why on earth would someone need to write about this? Seems easy enough; you pour some water on and you’re done, right? Not so fast! Over and under watering are the most common reasons that new plants fail. Here are some tips for watering your newly planted babies.

New In-Ground Plantings

water

The best way to water new plants is by hand. Not only is hand watering allowed even during watering restrictions, this method ensures the plant will get enough moisture. Use a handheld hose to thoroughly saturate the root ball of the plant all the way around. Turn the hose on high and don’t allow your water hose to sit off to one side. Spraying foliage is not necessary.

Perennials, annuals and shrubs should be watered 2-3 times per week, about 2-5 minutes at a time. Trees should be watered 2-3 times per week about 2-5 minutes, depending on the tree’s size. Remember that seasonal adjustments may need to be made to your watering schedule (e.g. super hot, dry summers or lots of torrential downpours).

More water is not always better! The idea behind hand watering is to water deeply and infrequently. This encourages roots to go deep into the soil to get that water. Shallow watering keeps roots near the surface, causing a weaker root system.

We recommend watering regularly for the first year to get plants established. Yup, a whole year. After that you can start to slowly taper off the amount you give them.

Some Like it Hot

Er, uh dry. Plants like palm trees, succulents and cactus store a lot of water in their trunks and like to stay on the dry side, but they still need some love to get established. Water these only once a week, 3-5 minutes at a time.

Containers

Check container plants daily. In the summer, sometimes twice a day! The smaller the container, the faster it will dry out. Hanging baskets will also dry out quickly. The type of container you use can also have an effect on moisture levels. Terra cotta pots tend to dry out faster than glazed ceramic ones. That plant you bought but haven’t planted yet? If it’s in one of those black plastic buckets, it’s going to heat up quickly in a sunny spot!

Indoor Plants

Check indoor plants for water every 7-10 days or so. Your mileage may vary. If you’re getting those little fungus gnats hanging around, your plants may be staying too wet. Those little pests LOVE excess moisture.

Established Plants

Established trees, shrubs and perennials often do not need weekly watering. A thorough soak a couple times per month should be enough. Except when there’s….

Drought

Ugh. The D word. Even plants that are drought tolerant will feel the heat. Remember tolerant does not mean they will necessarily like it! You may need to add longer or additional waterings in a period of drought.

What About Sprinklers and Watering Bags?

Sprinklers are fine for supplemental watering, but should not be relied upon to get your plants established. Sprinklers are designed to water lawns, whose roots are only a few inches deep. Remember that thing about shallow watering? The same is true with watering bags- they should not replace regular watering by hand.

How to Check Moisture Levels

Read carefully now, this is a really sophisticated method to check your plants for water. Stick your finger in the dirt. Okay, so it’s not. You really don’t need fancy meters to tell you what your plant needs. This method is sometimes called the two knuckle rule. Place your finger in the soil up to the second knuckle to check for moisture. If the soil is dry, crumbly and comes off your finger easily, apply water. Wet, muddy soil that sticks to your finger means you can wait a bit.

Whew! Are you ready for a glass of water yourself? There are many philosophies regarding watering plants. These tips have served us well for over 25 years. Remember that plants are like people, some may need more attention than others, even if it’s the same species or planted in the same area. Gardening takes practice and patience. As you hand water your plants, you will get to know them and their needs better. Really!

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Brunfelsia- May Plant of the Month

May Plant of the Month

Brunfelsia

brunfelsiaAre you one of those gardeners that can’t ever decide which color flower to get? Don’t you wish that one plant could have all different colors? Brunfelsia might be for you! Also called Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Brunfelsia blooms purple, then matures to lavender and finally white within three days. You will see all three colors on one shrub at once!

There are many varieties of Brunfelsia, growing anywhere from 4-10 feet tall. These tropical evergreen shrubs have glossy green leaves with a bushy form making them a good choice for foundation plantings and containers. TONS of fragrant flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds appear in spring. The flowers are large, almost 2 inches across! While the biggest show of flowers will be in spring, it will also bloom on and off summer until frost. Speaking of frost, Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow can handle light frost, but may suffer damage from a very hard freeze.

This plant loves moist, acidic soil and performs best where it can get some shade from our hot afternoon sun. Morning sun is great or dappled sun all day. They look great when mixed with other tropical looking plants like Elephant Ear, Agapanthus or ferns.

The downside? Think twice about planting if you have dogs, cats or horses; especially if they like to nibble your plants. Brunfelsia is a member of the nightshade family and all parts of it ARE POISONOUS. Even just a little taste can cause problems.

As long as no one chews on it, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow can be a wonderful addition to your garden. Brunfelsia is blooming right now at The Garden Center! Come by and see these beauties for yourself.

 

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Do You Need Plant Insurance?

Do You Need Plant Insurance?

Do you need plant insurance? If you weren’t born with a green thumb, you might think so. Gardening is a lot of trial and error, learning from mistakes and can be more art than science! However, there is a way to increase your chance of success with your newly planted trees and shrubs. The answer is root stimulator, one of our top selling products.

root stimulatorRoot Stimulator

We like to call it “cheap plant insurance”. It can be used on just about anything that’s going from a container to the ground. We especially love it for trees, shrubs and perennials.

Root stimulator is formulated to enhance early root growth and strong root development. This is important because when a plant is first placed in the ground, the first thing it wants to do is set roots. Root stimulator encourages this process to occur faster, leading to more vigorous plant growth.

How Does it Work?

Root stimulator comes in a liquid concentrate. Mix with water according to the instructions and pour around the base of the plant. You can use root stimulator about twice a month for the first two to three months after planting. If your plant is doing alright after that, high five! If it starts to struggle, you can try using another round of applications.

Ease Stress from Transplanting

Root stimulator not only increases root production, it can also help relieve some of the stress from planting (for the plant, not for you, silly). This is known as “transplant shock”. Sometimes when plants are moved from container to the ground disturbance of the roots or just a different soil environment can cause plants to “stress out”. Yup, this can happen even if you did everything right.

root stimulatorTransplant stress can be seen within a few weeks after planting and is characterized by yellowing or browning leaves that fall off easily. Don’t get discouraged if your plant does this! If your plant loses its leaves, it’s still alive and is trying to conserve energy. Keep up your normal watering routine and use your buddy Mr. Root Stimulator. Many times, the plant will recover. Sometimes not. Remember, even the best gardeners still lose plants on occasion. But, those that use root stimulator lose them less often! Come by The Garden Center any time and we can show you which one to get. Happy Planting!

 

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Pineapple Guava- April Plant of the Month

Pineapple Guava

April Plant of the Month

pineapple guava

Pineapple Guava is one of those plants you may have overlooked in the nurseries or the landscape through much of the season, but just look at them now! These tropical evergreens grow just fine here in south Texas with gorgeous flowers, edible fruit and gray green foliage year-round.

In the Landscape

Pineapple Guava make an excellent privacy screen, growing to about 12 or 15 feet without trimming. You can also keep them sheared back as a hedge or shape it into a topiary tree. Their thick gray green leaves give them a dense form. Grow them in well drained soil amended with some compost or soil conditioner. They’ll thank ya. You can also grow these in large containers.

While Pineapple Guava can be planted in full sun and is considered drought tolerant once established; it may still struggle a bit with our hot summer sun. If it starts to drop leaves, there’s your warning that it’s too dry.  Regular watering though summer and providing some shade in the afternoon will help ’em out quite a bit. Now here’s a bit of good news: these shrubs can tolerate winter temperatures down to 10º!

Blooms and Fruit

Now let’s get to the fun part. Fragrant Pineapple Guava blooms appear in early May with thick pink petals and red stamens. Hungry? Pick the petals for a sweet, crunchy snack. It will still set fruit if you’re careful about plucking. The flowers can also be used as a nice edible garnish. Bees and butterflies love them too!

The small green fruit will start to ripen in the fall. To get the best crop, fertilize and water regularly during the summer. They are reported to taste the best when you let them ripen until they fall off the plant. If you pick them early, put them on a sunny windowsill like a tomato to let them ripen. The fruits have a minty-pineapple flavor, but some people say strawberry! Cut them in half and scoop out the pulp with a spoon or quarter them and take a bite. Pineapple Guava fruits can be made into jelly, jam, used as pastry filling and more!

One of the best things about this plant? It’s virtually pest free! Even the deer aren’t interested in this plant. Those thick leaves just aren’t very appetizing to them. Ready to plant some of these in your landscape? Come on by The Garden Center, we have them in several sizes!

 

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To Mulch or Not to Mulch? There is No Question!

To Mulch or Not to Mulch? There is No Question!

mulchDon’t forget the mulch when you’re buying all of your spring time plants! Mulch is one of the easiest ways you can keep your trees and plants healthy and happy. Mulch is an excellent insulator, keeping roots cooler in summer, warmer in winter, plus it keeps weeds out and moisture in. Not to mention, it looks nice!

What Kind Should I Get?

Mulch is available in many forms. Here at The Garden Center, we carry shredded pine bark, cedar, cypress and hardwood. There are also red and black dyed mulches available. It’s up to you! All mulches are great, regardless of color or type. Some folks like to use different kinds for different purposes. Some say cedar mulch helps repel pests. Some customers have told us they like to use mulch made out of pecan shells because it keeps the cats out of the garden beds. The shells have sharp edges, which are hard on their tender kitty feet!

How to Use it

mulch

Mulch volcano

Spread a layer in your garden beds after planting. A 1 or 2 inch layer is enough. For coarser mulch, you can put down up to 4 inches.  For individual trees and large shrubs, make a  nice little donut type ring around the base. For any planting, make sure to leave some breathing room around the base of your plant!

Putting too much mulch too close to the base can cause problems for your plants later. For instance, too much mulch around a tree trunk can trap moisture, allowing the possibility of rotting the trunk! Unfortunately we see mulch volcanoes pop up every year around shopping centers and neighborhoods.mulch

Don’t wait until summer to use mulch, it’s beneficial to replenish it year-round. Weeds have a hard time making their way through it. You’ll be using less water because you’ll have less evaporation. You’re also adding some good organic material back to the soil once it starts to break down. To mulch or not to mulch? There is no question!

 

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