6 Bug Repellent Patio Plants

We love to spend our summer days outside with family and friends, but pesky bugs are quick to drive a party indoors. For a chemical-free way to keep insects at bay this season, we asked the experts from our green goods team to recommend their favorite bug repellent plants. Planted near the doorway or transformed into essential oils, these six natural options deter mosquitoes, flies, and more uninvited guests in the summer garden.

1. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): Like many members of the mint family, this herb provides protection against summertime mosquitoes. To make a quick, all-natural bug repellent, crush a handful of lemon balm leaves and rub onto any exposed skin. If you’ve already suffered a bug bite, its soothing oils can limit itching as well. This easy-to-grow herb also has a number of additional applications, from infused teas and vinegar to green salads.

2. Ageratum ‘Artist Blue’: Topped with clusters of fluffy blooms, this compact annual is also known as floss flower. It secretes coumarin, a common ingredient in mosquito repellents; pesky bugs find the scent offensive. Though it deters biting insects, this North American native also attracts butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden.

3. Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citratus): Native to Southeast Asia, this aromatic ornamental contains natural citronellol essential oil to repel mosquitoes and stable flies, which prey on domestic animals. Its narrow leaves grow from 2-4′ tall and offer a strong fragrance. A popular ingredient in folk medicine, lemongrass is also noted for its anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties.

4. Purple Bee Balm (Monarda didyma): Attractive to hummingbirds and bees, this flowering perennial deters mosquitoes when the leaves are crushed to release their fragrant oils. Compact and fast-growing, this hardy specimen prefers partial to full sun, making it perfect for adding color in border gardens, container plantings, and perennial beds.

5. Catmint (Nepeta): A favorite among feline visitors to the garden, catmint is also an effective deterrent for mosquitoes. Try crushing a sprig of leaves and tucking it into your pocket or hatband for an impromptu repellent, or use chopped leaves to create an oil or alcohol infusion. This low-maintenance perennial is also a worry-free addition to the garden, as it’s resistant to drought, full sun, and deer.

6. Lavender (Lavandula): A striking addition to any summer garden, lavender offers practical protection from mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and moths. Lavender can be planted near entryways or freshly cut and placed in a window to keep bugs outside. When extracted from the blooms, its oil is an effective bug repellent that also offers calming properties; apply lavender oil to your ankles, wrists, or feet before heading outside.

Photography credits: 1.Quinn Dombrowski; Forest & Kim Starr; 2. Serres Fortier; 3. Graibeard; 4. Michelle Dorsey Walfred; 5. James Steakley; 6. Terrain

Six Tropical with Fantastic Foliage

Tropicals are trending this summer, from natural nursery specimens to leafy prints on picnic plates and outdoor pillows. We love the remarkable array of leaf shapes, sizes, and colors that can be found in forests around the world, from towering palms to striking Staghorn ferns. Today, we’re embracing the tropical trend with 6 of our favorite leafy greens.

1. Monstera (Monstera deliciosa): Native to the tropical rainforests of Central America, this ornamental favorite can grow to an impressive 30 feet high. It takes the name “Monstera” from its striking scale, while “deliciosa” refers to its edible fruit, which tastes like a mix of banana, mango, and pineapple. This flavor combination lends Monstera the nickname “fruit salad plant.” Other gardeners might know this tall tropical as the “Swiss cheese plant,” a reference to its unusual leaves. The leathery, heart-shaped leaves are solid when young, but develop unique perforations as they mature.

2. Java Staghorn Fern (Platycerium willinckii): Easy to care for, the Java Staghorn is an excellent choice for cultivating at home. Native to the island of Java, this Staghorn is notable for the contrast between its tall, deeply lobed shield fronds and whitish-green fertile fronds. The fertile fronds may develop long, finger-like lobes, offering an exceptionally dramatic shape that differentiates this variety from other Platycerium.

3. Australian Fan Palm (Licuala ramsayi): Native to rainforests in the Australian state of Queensland, this fan palm produces remarkable leaves that can reach 6 feet in diameter in its natural habitat. The circular leaves are made up of wedge-shaped segments, with around 9-12 leaves per tree. This slow-growing palm is uniquely adapted to its tropical environment; the large surface of the leaf absorbs sunlight, while the segmented shape allows air flow to carry heat away from the plant and weather windy conditions.

4. Staghorn Fern (Platycerium superbum): Another Australian native, this giant epiphyte grows on trees and rocks in the lowland rainforests of Queensland and New South Wales. Each fern attaches to a tree with a “nest” frond, which collects falling leaves and insects that provide the plant with nutrients. Branching, antler-shaped fronds extend up to 6 feet, making this variety a stunning ornamental for large spaces.

5. Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’): Playfully named for the shape of its leaves, this fast-growing foliage plant features deep purple leaves and stems. Also known as “Black Magic Taro,” this showy tuber is native to tropical regions of Asia and can be grown in up to 6″ of standing water. When grown in its preferred wet soil conditions, its richly-colored foliage can reach 3-6′ tall.

6. Parasol Palm (Licuala orbicularis): A petite palm with show-stopping leaves, this short-stemmed tropical grows in the lowland rainforests of Borneo. Its pleated, circular leaves can reach 30″ in diameter. A popular ornamental variety, it is also harvested from the wild by Malaysian locals. The fronds are used for roof thatching, hat-making, cooking, and even as impromptu umbrellas.

A Water – Wise Herb Garden

Combine drought-tolerant varieties with water-saving techniques for a garden that takes the dry weather in stride.

Herb gardeners are not the kind of people who give up easily. A few years ago, when we nursed our garden’s through a drought with heavy water {the type carried by hand}. We learned the value of special planting techniques borrowed from the native people of the arid southwest and gained a new appreciation for the natural drought tolerance of lavender, rosemary, and other Mediterranean herbs.

Those of us who grow herbs have a big advantage when it comes to water-wise gardening because we have so many beautiful drought-tolerant choices available to us.

By combining herbs that thrive under dry conditions with several time-tested strategies for reducing moisture loss, you easily can grow a herb garden that requires little or no supplemental water.

Strategy # 1:

Create Moisture Zones

In water-strapped communities across the country, gardeners have found that placing plants that share similar moisture needs together makes watering more effective and convenient. For example, you might place St. John’s wort, lovage, marshmallow and other herbs that prefer moist soil together in a spot shaded from hot afternoon sun. Should the rain clouds disappear for weeks at a time, you can efficiently water the heavy drinkers until they are satisfied. In similar fashion, herbs that need little water, such as horehound, Santolina, and all succulents, can be grouped together in hot spots that are difficult to water.

Strategy # 2:

Water-Seeking Roots

Newly planted herbs need moist soil until they establish a functioning network of roots. But after a few weeks, you can fine-tune your watering practices to push plants to develop bigger, better root systems.

Covering the soil’s surface with any type of mulch will block weeds and slow evaporative moisture loss, but there’s a catch. In dry weather, hurried watering sessions that moisten only the mulch and top inch or so of soil encourage plants to develop roots close to the surface, where they quickly dry out. Weekly deep watering, on the other hand, encourages the growth of deeper water-seeking roots.

Using drip or soaker hoses for several hours {or overnight} is the easiest way to deeply water established herbs. Or let the water run freely from a hose laid on the ground as you do other things nearby. Avoid using sprinklers, which are inefficient and must be left on for a long time to soak roots deeply.

Strategy # 3:

Lessons from the Past

Few places are as hot and dry as the desert southwest, where Zuni gardeners developed an ingenious method called waffle gardening. As the gardeners dug the planting beds, they shaped them into squares or rectangles. Within each one, the Zuni used their hands to mound soil into a waffle pattern. Like warm syrup in a waffle, water collects in each basin when it rains. Between rains, the berms shelter roots from drying the sun and the wind.

Most gardens receive more rain than Zuni gardens do, but you can adapt the waffle garden concept for your temperate-climate herb garden.

A Bountiful, Water-Wise Herb Garden Bed.

Water conservation is built into our planting of more than a dozen herbs and other useful plants. Lavender, Santolina, and others that require excellent drainage and dry conditions occupy raised berms. The irrigated heart of the bed is filled with herbs that prefer a little more water, with front door space set aside for hand-watered culinary herbs.

Use a similar “water-zone” approach when planting your favorite herbs. A 5-by-12 footbed can be created on level ground or on a slight slope. If desired, a second soaker hose can be installed atop the berm. You also can make the garden longer to create a border along a fence.

Make the berm just a few inches high and the sunken interior area about 4 to 5 inches deep. After you plant, add a generous layer of mulch; the interior surface will be just slightly below the original surface. Do include an opening that can serve as an open floodgate should a heavy storm drench your planting of water-wise herbs.

Outer berm:

Lavender {Lavandula spp.}, 30-36 inches, Zone 4-8. All varieties adapt to dry conditions; Spanish lavender {L. stoechas} is especially heated tolerant.

Rosemary {Rosmarinus officinalis}, 24-48 inches, Zones 7-10; curling leaf tips indicate a need for supplemental water.

Hens-and-chicks {Sempervivum spp.}, 6 inches, Zones 3-8; heat- and cold-tolerant succulents form robust mounds. Can be grown in a pot.

Sedums {Sedum spp.}, 4-8 inches, Zones 3-8; these hardy succulents come in a range of sizes, colors, and forms.

Sage {Salvia officinalis}, 24 inches, Zones 4-8; choose between varieties with gray-green leaves or variegated strains, which tolerate less cold.

Ice plant {Delosperma spp.}, 12 inches, Zones 4-8; heavy-blooming succulents can be grown as annuals or perennials.

Thyme {Thymus spp.}, 12 inches, Zones 5-9; all species show the high tolerance for dry conditions after they are well rooted.

Oregano {Origanum spp.}, 16 inches, Zones 5-9; small, thick leaves hold up well under dry conditions which often enhance flavor.

Gray Santolina {Santolina chamaecyparissus}, 12 inches, Zones 6-8; stiff plants form tight mounds of foliage; require dry conditions.

Echinacea {Echinacea spp.}, 36 inches, Zones 3-9; enjoy flowers in summer, and make healthful tea from the roots in the fall.

Inner Bed, rear tier:

Horehound  {Marrubium vulgare}, 28 inches, Zones 4-9; most drought-tolerant member of the mint family. Leaves used for cough medicine, candy or tea.

Fern-leaf yarrow {Achillea filipendulina}, 36-48 inches, Zones 3-8; produces long-lasting yellow flower clusters in summer; finely cut foliage good for arrangements or crafts.

Russian Sage {Perovskia atriplicifolia}, 3-5 feet, Zones 6-9; arching branches clothed with luminous gray foliage all season, with lavender flowers in summer.

Borage {Borago officinalis}, 36 inches, annual, all zones; fast-growing plants produce flushes of starry blue flowers; cut back to prolong blooming time.

Inner Bed, rear tier:

Anise hyssop {Agastache spp.}, 2-3 feet, Zones 4-9; fragrant foliage topped by spikes of bee-friendly flowers from mid-summer onward.

Basil {Ocimum basilicum}, annual, all zones; 12-18 inches tall.

Cilantro {Coriandrum sativum}, grow as annual; about 6 inches tall.

Parsley {Petroselinum crispum}, a biennial in Zone 6 or grow as annual; about 3-4 inches tall.

A mulched herb garden requires only half as much water as the same space kept in a bluegrass lawn.

Use X-rated Plants:

The word xeriscape always has been a mouthful, so it’s no surprise that the practice of gardening with little or no supplemental water {xeriscaping} has picked up a bit of verbal shorthand. in short, a good xeriscape plant is rated x. Depending on where you live, X-rated plants might include cacti or yucca, or perhaps native grasses or vines. Among herbs, gray Santolina, horehound, and rosemary are rated X. For more information, visit Colorado Water Wise Council at http://Xeriscape.org or Eartheasy at http://www.Eartheasy.com

Native Plants for Your Area.

NORTHEAST {ZONES 2A-7B}

Pink Turtlehead {Chelone Iyonii}: wildflower perennial.

Butterfly Milkweed {Asclepias tuberosa}: wildflower perennial.

Creeping Wintergreen or “Checkerberry” {Gaultheria procumbens}: evergreen perennial/groundcover.

Blue False Indigo {Baptisia australis}: herbaceous perennial.

Sweet Pepperbush {Clethra alnifolia}: deciduous shrub.

NORTHWEST {ZONES 3A-9B}

Showy Fleabane {Erigeron speciosus}: wildflower perennial.

Common Camas {Camassia quamash}: wildflower perennial/groundcover.

Spiraea or “Hardhack” {Spiraea douglasii}: shrub perennial.

Hooker’s Onion {Allium acuminatum}: perennial groundcover.

Trailing Blackberry {Rubus ursinus}: vine/shrub/deciduous perennial.

SOUTHEAST {ZONES 5B-10B}

Rose Verbena {Verbena canadensis}: perennial groundcover.

American Elderberry {Sambucus nigra}: deciduous perennial shrub.

Trumpet Honeysuckle/Coral Honeysuckle {Lonicera sempervirens}; vine perennial.

Swamp Milkweed {Asclepias incarnata}: wildflower perennial.

Blazing Star {Liatris spicata}: wildflower perennial.

SOUTHWEST {ZONES 5B-10B}

Skunkbush Sumac {Rhus trilobata}: perennial deciduous shrub.

Desert Sand Verbena {Abronia villosa}: wildflower annual.

Silver Buffaloberry {Shepherdia argentea}: perennial shrub.

Rocky Mountain Columbine {Aguilegia caerulea}: wildflower perennial.

Western Wallflower {Erysimum asperum}: wildflower biennial.

NORTHERN MIDWEST {ZONES 2B-6A}

Purple Prairie Clover {Dalea purpurea}: wildflower perennial.

Greek Valerian {Polemonium reptans}: wildflower perennial.

Sneezeweed {Helenium autumnale}: wildflower perennial.

Bunchberry {Cornus canadensis}: groundcover perennial.

Cattails {Typha latifolia} grass perennial.

SOUTHERN MIDWEST {ZONES 4B-9B}

Blue Larkspur {Delphinium carolinianum}: wildflower perennial.

Spicebush {Lindera benzoin}: shrub.

Coreopsis {Coreopsis grandiflora}: wildflower perennial.

Wild Hyacinth {Camassia scilloides}: wildflower perennial.

Inkberry {Ilex glabra}: shrub.

Not sure what zone you’re in? Go to http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone to find out.

Creating A Native Plant Garden.

By sticking with species indigenous to your area, you can help save the environment and yourself some back-breaking labor!

In the face of an often bleak midwinter, we do have one joyous event to look forward to the steady arrival of garden catalogs. Those glossy pages tempt us with a dazzling array of flowers, herbs, and vegetables, offering yet another chance to dream and plan for the perfect garden. With fancy foliage, pristine blooms, catchy names, and a color palette that rivals a Monet painting, these myriad choices call out to us, saying “buy me!” And often, in a cabin-fever-induced frenzy, we succumb, putting our hard-earned money toward a host of exotic species.

But later, sometimes years after we’ve planted our seeds, we find that those Asian, bittersweet, multiflora roses and that Japanese honeysuckle have taken over the entire garden, choking out any plants in their path. Where did we go wrong? These wondrous species that looked too good to be true are the culprits. By choosing plants unsuited to the region in which we live, we invite, quite literally, an alien invasion of the plant world.

You don’t have to look far to create a garden filled with gorgeous, carefree blooms and healthy herbs and vegetables. Native plants, those species that have grown in your region for eons, are not only aesthetically pleasing, they support the local ecosystem. A healthier ecosystem means a heartier garden and a happier gardener.

Native Know-How:

One of the main benefits of native plants is that they’ve acclimated to your region. With no need for special pruning, or fertilizing, these species require less maintenance. Native ground covers allow the gardener to cut back on weeding time, and the more plants you grow, the less lawn upkeep you have to stay on top of. {They also prevent soil erosion.} Native plants are also the perfect candidates for companion planting. Growing two or more different kinds of native plants close together can help repel pests, attract beneficial insects, provide shelter for smaller plants, and add important nutrients to the soil. This all translates to less work for the gardener.

Of course, these perks also benefit the environment. Essentially recreating the natural landscape {as it was before humans arrived on the scene with their exotic tastes and penchant for wide expanses of green grass}, a native plant garden provides shelter and food for birds, insects, bats, and other organisms. And, unlike foreign plants, which can be extremely susceptible to your region’s various diseases and pests, native species prove much more resilient because they’ve acclimated over the centuries. You don’t have to resort to harmful pesticides and herbicides to thwart these plant killers.

Plants native to a particular region are also accustomed to the climate and seasonal weather conditions. They require less watering and are often drought resistant. In areas where water use is sometimes restricted during the summer months, native species fare much better than exotic plants.

Native plants {and trees} increase biodiversity by providing wildlife with food in the form of leaves, berries, fruit, and insects. Biodiversity is essential to the stability and existence of most ecosystems. Microorganisms break down decaying matter in the soil, providing energy for plants to grow. Plants provide food and shelter to larger insects {and even some animals}, and these larger insects are often food for animals. It’s a continuous, finely-tuned cycle. Because exotic plants can be toxic to insects {even beneficial ones} and often kill off native plants, they reduce biodiversity, damaging the ecosystem as a result.

Butterfly populations, in particular, are dwindling because native plants serve as their main source of food. For a garden to attract butterflies, two types of plants are necessary: those that provide nectar for adults and those that serve as host plants for larvae. Many exotic species only provide nectar, offering no place for these adults to lay their eggs. Birds, spiders, predatory insects, and even rodents rely on larvae for food, while plants look to these future butterflies to help pollinate.

Yet another benefit, many of these native species are used in herbal medicine. Planting a garden full of local flora gives you easy access to remedies for all kinds of medical conditions and symptoms.

Worried that your native plants will attract deer? These four-legged creatures actually find native plants less appealing, because they grow prolifically in the woods. Like humans, deer find exotic rarities much more desirable!

Getting Started:

Rather than transform your garden all at once, start slowly and incorporate a few native plants into your existing plot to complement your annuals and exotic perennials. If you do decide to start fresh with natives, try a small bed no larger than 3 x 8 feet.

Native plants attract and restore wildlife habitats and also attract beneficial insects. Remember to design your garden around the three pillars of a sustainable habitat: food, water, and shelter. Don’t forget to include some trees and shrubs, which also provide shelter and food.

Many nurseries now carry native plants. Make sure that the plants you intend to purchase were cultivated in your area, preferably from seeds or cuttings. Avoid purchasing cloned cultivars or horticulturally enhanced plants.

Sticking with native plants doesn’t mean giving up your neat and tidy garden beds for a wild field of weeds, nor does it mean resigning yourself to unappealing blooms. A native plants garden virtually cares for itself, while offering a safe haven for wildlife and insects. Help sustain your region’s biodiversity and enjoy the unending beauty these species have to offer.

Camellia

Like many of America’s favorite plants, the camellia is native to Asia. One tradition holds that Europeans and Americans first wanted the plants for commercial cultivation — Camellia sinensis for tea and Camellia oleifera for seed oil used in cooking and cosmetics. Instead of supplying these species, which produce understated little flowers, the Chinese slipped traders plants and seeds of showy C. japonica and blowsy-headed Camellia reticulata.

Some reports have camellias in Europe as early as the 16th century. We know for certain that they were in England by the early 18th century and in America soon after. While southerners struggled in vain to turn the tea plant into a cash crop, growers in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast were having better luck growing their more floriferous cousins in the greenhouse as florist plants. As specialty nurseries and camellia-smitten individuals created new cultivars in the 1840s, the plant caught on as a garden plant in the antebellum South.

The oldest camellia plant in the South dates from even earlier and grows at Middleton Plantation near Charlotte, South Carolina. Andre Michaud, the French plant explorer, presented camellias to his friend, Henry Middleton, in the mid-1700s. No one is certain how many camellias Middleton received, but he planted one at each corner of his parterre garden. Of these, a double red, ‘Reines des Fleurs’ (Queen of Flowers) survives.

The Civil War put an end to grand southern landscapes, but the cold-challenged camellia, with its waxen leaves and elegant flowers, was the ideal plant for coddling in Victorian greenhouses. Artists rendered them in watercolors; needleworkers embroidered them on silk and damask; belles wore them to balls. Western plant hunters scoured the globe for new plants to record and propagate. By early in the 20th century, when things Victorian were no longer admired and World War I was closing down conservatories, camellias were almost forgotten, except perhaps on the West Coast. Nurseries that had carried hundreds of cultivars whittled their inventories down to a handful. Besides, many gardeners thought the camellia out of place in the era’s new, more casual landscape style.

The scene began to shift again in the 1930s, as more gardeners came to realize that the camellia wasn’t a delicate prima donna but a trouble-free plant in the right conditions. In the 1940s camellias became the flower corsage of choice for the society set. At the end of World War II, the revival heated up even more. Savvy homeowners saw shrubs as ideal plants for a labor-saving landscape. Few other shrubs had the dense evergreen foliage or extended off-season flowering to equal the camellia (blooming from late fall to late spring). For that trait, they are often called “Queen of Winter Flowers.”

The diversity of flower and form combined with a beautiful shrub that is easy to grow made it a popular plant. Colors range from white to pink to red with just about every shade and the combination of these colors available. Camellia flowers haven’t changed appreciably in past decades. They range from single and semi-double to forms resembling other flowers — peony, anemone, and rose — to the dense formal double. There are now more than 20,000 named cultivars.

Camellias prefer moist, well-drained, acid soils and moderately cold temperatures. They grow best in open shade. Most camellias bloom between September and March, which provides a unique burst of ornamental color when most plants in the garden are asleep.

Countless Species

Camellias thrive in the American West Coast, the South, and the Southeast (hardy to zone 7, and sometimes 6 with winter cover). Their winter blooms provide valuable nectar for pollinators during the cold months. So, beloved, have camellias become that several cities — and one state — have designated them as the city’s (or state’s ) flower. Sacramento, California; Slidell, Louisiana; Greenville, Alabama; Newburg, Oregon; and the state of Alabama all claim the flower as their own. For devotees, there are “camellia trails” in a ring around the coastal areas of the United States. The American Camellia Society maintains a list of these trails on its website (http://www.camellias-acs.com).

The genus Camellia has more than 250 species. Among the ornate varieties, the most widely grown are the Camellia sasanqua and C. japonica. Camellia sasanqua are the earliest bloomers. They have a more open habit and have a smaller, often more profuse bloom. Camellia japonicas, the standard bearer for the genus, have more showy flowers, more compact growth habit and larger, rounder leaves.

The genus was named Camellia by Linnaeus to honor the 17th century Jesuit missionary and botanist, George Josef Kamel. While on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, Kamel wrote an account of the plants he found there. Excerpts of this were published in England. From there Linnaeus Latinized Kamel’s name to “Camellia.”

Cultural Symbols

In the long recorded history of camellias, their notable success in Europe and America is only a footnote. The plants can live up to 800 years and have been prized in Asia for centuries. They are important symbols in Korean culture, where they represent longevity and faithfulness. Since 1200 B.C. they have been used in Korean weddings. The flowers are highly respected in China and can be found in great abundance in the countryside. To the Chinese, camellias symbolize devotion between lovers and are seen as lucky symbols for the Chinese New Year and spring.

Not only beautiful, the tea plant has culinary and medicinal uses. The leaves of C. sinensis are used for tea. In India and Sri Lanka, C. sinensis is one of the leading crops, with plants growing 50 feet tall. In China, the seeds are pressed and the juice extracted to make tea oil (C. oleifera), used for seasoning and cooking. The Chinese use camellias to treat asthma, heart diseases, and bacterial infections.

Gardens along the U.S. coasts from east to west feature camellias new and old. In San Marino, California, the Huntington Botanical Gardens has one of America’s most comprehensive collections, with 60 species and 1,200 cultivars. In the deep South, The American Camellia Society has its headquarters at the Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley, Georgia. Here can be found over 1,000 cultivars in several camellia gardens.

Heirloom Cultivars

With over 20,000 cultivars on display — from fall through spring — Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina, has an impressive collection, one that has been growing for 300 years. Ancient Camellias (pre-1900) are a specialty there. The staff seeks out cultivars around the globe, making an effort to find and preserve threatened varieties. Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norfolk, Virginia, has been growing since the Depression and continues to expand. It has more than 1,700 camellia plants in the collection, with plants blooming from September (C. sasanqua) and until the end of May (C. japonica).

“Folks, young gardeners as well as more experienced ones, are becoming very interested in heirloom varieties of camellias,” notes Brie Arthur, propagator, and grower at Camellia Forest Nursery in North Carolina. “Many of the old varieties are spectacular. And we know how well they perform because they have lived healthily for over a hundred years. Many are still available in the trade and more are being offered every year.”

Growers from Camellia Forest Nursery recently traveled to Magnolia Plantation with its collection of over 20,000 antique camellias. From these healthy old plants, Camellia Forest Nursery made a collection of 35 cultivars, now available to the public in its 2013 catalog as the Magnolia Plantation Ancient Collection. Visit their website at http://www.camforest.com.

To achieve a sense of history, a burst of winter beauty, a touch with plants ancient and beneficial, try camellias. To help you in your quest, here are several stunning, older camellia cultivars that are still available:

‘Alba Plena’

A cultivar of C. japonica, ‘Alba Plena’ is one of the oldest types in the United States. It’s medium-sized, double flowers are white with at least 100 petals. It blooms early in the season and can bloom for several months. Captain Connor of the East Indiaman carried it to Britain in 1792.

‘Aunt Jetty’

A light red C. japonica that blooms in mid-season, ‘Aunt Jetty’ has semi-double to loose peony- shaped blossoms. At the Alfred B. McLay Gardens State Park in Tallahassee, Florida, there is an ‘Aunt Jetty’ camellia which is almost 200 years old.

‘Bella Ramona’

Developed in Rome, Italy, in 1863, this formal double camellia is intricately candy-striped. It has large flowers with interesting red picotee margins and red streaks on the blossoms.

‘Captain Martin’s Favorite’

Developed at Magnolia Plantation, this large pink-and-white-striped camellia comes with an amusing story. Apparently, the plant was near the shore where Captain Martin docked his boat. Not wanting the family to know he was picking the flowers, Captain Martin tucked them under his hat every time he passed. Unfortunately, the daughter of Magnolia Plantation came by; custom decreed that the captain tip his hat and as he did, the blossoms tumbled forth. Thus the mystery was solved, and the plant given a name.

‘La Peppermint’

A beautiful and aptly named C. japonica, this camellia has 3-to 5-inch flowers that look like peppermint candy. A profuse bloomer, ‘La Peppermint’ makes a striking focal point to any garden. It was developed in 1935.

‘Pink Perfection’

Another C. japonica, ‘Pink Perfection’ has been a feature of Southern gardens for over 150 years. It produces blush, double pink flowers all winter long. Originally from Japan, it is vigorous and long-lived.

‘Professor Sargent’

A true heritage plant, this camellia originated about 1925 and was named for Professor Charles Sprague Sargent, then director of the Arnold Arboretum. It has heavily ruffled red flowers that bloom from late autumn to spring. This prolonged bloom period makes it an ideal cut flower. Commonly 12-to 15- feet high, the plant can reach 25 feet under the right conditions.

‘Purple Dawn’

Brought to the United States from Europe in the 1840s, ‘Purple Dawn’ is a compact plant with large, double crimson blooms, often having a purple cast. It blooms from January to May. It is also called ‘Julia Drayton’ and ‘Mathotiana’ and is one of the all-time favorites among the group.

Low-Water Garden Plants An Option in Drought-Heavy Areas

Coping with drought is a way of life for many people across North America.
The National Climatic Data Center, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, works cooperatively with Canada and Mexico to monitor climate and drought conditions across the continent.
According to the NOAA, the globally-averaged temperature for 2013 tied as the fourth warmest year since 1880, when record-keeping began. 2013 also marked the 37th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th-century average. Warm temperatures, when paired with below-average precipitation, can quickly escalate and cause drought, making things difficult for those who make their livelihood by working the land or even just weekend gardeners.
Low-water garden plants are a smart choice for those who live in areas that often deal with drought. These resilient plants can keep gardens looking lush and beautiful regardless of water restrictions. In fact, low-water gardening has become a popular trend among eco-conscious gardeners and even is a cost-saving measure for homeowners.
Establishing a garden of drought-tolerant plants requires knowledge of hardiness zones and which plants will thrive in certain areas. Native plants, in general, will be more tolerant to fluctuations in weather than plants that are imported. Contact a garden center and speak with someone knowledgeable about plants that will do well in low-water conditions. In addition, choose plants that have a reputation for drought resistance.
Butterfly bush is very hardy and requires little water. Although it is considered an invasive plant in some areas, gardeners who keep on top of seedlings and off-shoots can keep the plant in control. This shrub will create an enormous amount of flowers that will appear in the spring and will continue to bloom throughout the summer. The butterfly bush also attracts scores of butterflies to a landscape.
A variety of sage plants, including white sage, black sage, and Cleveland sage, are drought-tolerant and do well in climates like Southern California’s. These plants produce blooms that attract insects and birds alike.
Gardeners who would like relatively low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants can opt for succulents.
Succulents, which include aloe, cacti, and jade, are characterized by thick, fleshy water-storage organs.
Succulents prefer bright light and can thrive in south-facing conditions. It’s good to concentrate the most amount of waterings for succulents during the spring growing season. Keep soil well-drained to avoid damage to shallow roots.
Heed landscape conditions when selecting plants for the garden. Drought-tolerant plants are a good idea in those regions where the weather is naturally arid or if homeowners prefer plants that can grow regardless of seasonal water restrictions.

A Bountiful, Water-Wise Herb Garden Bed.

Water conservation is built into our planting of more than a dozen herbs and other useful plants. Lavender, Santolina, and others that require excellent drainage and dry conditions occupy raised berms. The irrigated heart of the bed is filled with herbs that prefer a little more water, with front door space set aside for hand-watered culinary herbs.

Use a similar “water-zone” approach when planting your favorite herbs. A 5-by-12 footbed can be created on level ground or on a slight slope. If desired, a second soaker hose can be installed atop the berm. You also can make the garden longer to create a border along a fence.

Make the berm just a few inches high and the sunken interior area about 4 to 5 inches deep. After you plant, add a generous layer of mulch; the interior surface will be just slightly below the original surface. Do include an opening that can serve as an open floodgate should a heavy storm drench your planting of water-wise herbs.

Outer berm:

Lavender {Lavandula spp.}, 30-36 inches, Zone 4-8. All varieties adapt to dry conditions; Spanish lavender {L. stoechas} is especially heated tolerant.

Rosemary {Rosmarinus officinalis}, 24-48 inches, Zones 7-10; curling leaf tips indicate a need for supplemental water.

Hens-and-chicks {Sempervivum spp.}, 6 inches, Zones 3-8; heat- and cold-tolerant succulents form robust mounds. Can be grown in a pot.

Sedums {Sedum spp.}, 4-8 inches, Zones 3-8; these hardy succulents come in a range of sizes, colors, and forms.

Sage {Salvia officinalis}, 24 inches, Zones 4-8; choose between varieties with gray-green leaves or variegated strains, which tolerate less cold.

Ice plant {Delosperma spp.}, 12 inches, Zones 4-8; heavy-blooming succulents can be grown as annuals or perennials.

Thyme {Thymus spp.}, 12 inches, Zones 5-9; all species show the high tolerance for dry conditions after they are well rooted.

Oregano {Origanum spp.}, 16 inches, Zones 5-9; small, thick leaves hold up well under dry conditions which often enhance flavor.

Gray Santolina {Santolina chamaecyparissus}, 12 inches, Zones 6-8; stiff plants form tight mounds of foliage; require dry conditions.

Echinacea {Echinacea spp.}, 36 inches, Zones 3-9; enjoy flowers in summer, and make healthful tea from the roots in the fall.

Inner Bed, rear tier:

Horehound  {Marrubium vulgare}, 28 inches, Zones 4-9; most drought-tolerant member of the mint family. Leaves used for cough medicine, candy or tea.

Fern-leaf yarrow {Achillea filipendulina}, 36-48 inches, Zones 3-8; produces long-lasting yellow flower clusters in summer; finely cut foliage good for arrangements or crafts.

Russian Sage {Perovskia atriplicifolia}, 3-5 feet, Zones 6-9; arching branches clothed with luminous gray foliage all season, with lavender flowers in summer.

Borage {Borago officinalis}, 36 inches, annual, all zones; fast-growing plants produce flushes of starry blue flowers; cut back to prolong blooming time.

Inner Bed, rear tier:

Anise hyssop {Agastache spp.}, 2-3 feet, Zones 4-9; fragrant foliage topped by spikes of bee-friendly flowers from mid-summer onward.

Basil {Ocimum basilicum}, annual, all zones; 12-18 inches tall.

Cilantro {Coriandrum sativum}, grow as annual; about 6 inches tall.

Parsley {Petroselinum crispum}, a biennial in Zone 6 or grow as annual; about 3-4 inches tall.

A mulched herb garden requires only half as much water as the same space kept in a bluegrass lawn.

Use X-rated Plants:

The word xeriscape always has been a mouthful, so it’s no surprise that the practice of gardening with little or no supplemental water {xeriscaping} has picked up a bit of verbal shorthand. in short, a good xeriscape plant is rated x. Depending on where you live, X-rated plants might include cacti or yucca, or perhaps native grasses or vines. Among herbs, gray Santolina, horehound, and rosemary are rated X. For more information, visit Colorado Water Wise Council at http://Xeriscape.org or Eartheasy at http://www.Eartheasy.com

A Water – Wise Herb Garden.

Combine drought-tolerant varieties with water-saving techniques for a garden that takes the dry weather in stride.
Herb gardeners are not the kind of people who give up easily. A few years ago, when we nursed our garden’s through a drought with heavy water {the type carried by hand}. We learned the value of special planting techniques borrowed from the native people of the arid southwest and gained a new appreciation for the natural drought tolerance of lavender, rosemary, and other Mediterranean herbs.
Those of us who grow herbs have a big advantage when it comes to water-wise gardening because we have so many beautiful drought-tolerant choices available to us.
By combining herbs that thrive under dry conditions with several time-tested strategies for reducing moisture loss, you easily can grow a herb garden that requires little or no supplemental water.

Strategy # 1:

Create Moisture Zones
In water-strapped communities across the country, gardeners have found that placing plants that share similar moisture needs together makes watering more effective and convenient. For example, you might place St. John’s wort, lovage, marshmallow and other herbs that prefer moist soil together in a spot shaded from hot afternoon sun. Should the rain clouds disappear for weeks at a time, you can efficiently water the heavy drinkers until they are satisfied. In similar fashion, herbs that need little water, such as horehound, Santolina, and all succulents, can be grouped together in hot spots that are difficult to water.

 Strategy # 2:

Water-Seeking Roots
Newly planted herbs need moist soil until they establish a functioning network of roots. But after a few weeks, you can fine-tune your watering practices to push plants to develop bigger, better root systems.
Covering the soil’s surface with any type of mulch will block weeds and slow evaporative moisture loss, but there’s a catch. In dry weather, hurried watering sessions that moisten only the mulch and top inch or so of soil encourage plants to develop roots close to the surface, where they quickly dry out. Weekly deep watering, on the other hand, encourages the growth of deeper water-seeking roots.
Using drip or soaker hoses for several hours {or overnight} is the easiest way to deeply water established herbs. Or let the water run freely from a hose laid on the ground as you do other things nearby. Avoid using sprinklers, which are inefficient and must be left on for a long time to soak roots deeply.

 Strategy # 3:

Lessons from the Past
Few places are as hot and dry as the desert southwest, where Zuni gardeners developed an ingenious method called waffle gardening. As the gardeners dug the planting beds, they shaped them into squares or rectangles. Within each one, the Zuni used their hands to mound soil into a waffle pattern. Like warm syrup in a waffle, water collects in each basin when it rains. Between rains, the berms shelter roots from drying the sun and the wind.
Most gardens receive more rain than Zuni gardens do, but you can adapt the waffle garden concept for your temperate-climate herb garden.

Gardening in Dry Climates

Gardeners in climates where summers are dry {or those in other areas who are looking for low-maintenance plants} can still have plenty of flowers. Choosing the right location for the garden will help.
Here are some tips:
* Site the garden where it will get some shade during the hottest part of the afternoon.
* Avoid planting your flowers on sloping ground that drains quickly.
* Do not choose a location with very windy conditions.
* Plant as far as possible from trees with shallow root systems, such as maples, which steal moisture and nutrients from the surrounding soil.
* Add mulch to help conserve moisture and keep the soil cool.
* Position the thirstiest plants closest to the water source.
Some plants that ordinarily grow best in full sun when the soil is rich and moist will manage in drier soil if they receive some shade during the day. The hotter the climate, the more these sun lovers will appreciate some shade, especially in the afternoon. Some of the perennials that behave this way are Lady’s mantle, Japanese anemone, bergenia, columbine, purple coneflower, peach-leaved bellflower, snakeroot, bleeding heart.
Plants for Dry Gardens:
 
Perennials especially good for dry, sunny gardens include yarrow, butterfly weed, coreopsis, globe thistle, amethyst, sea holly, gaillardia, Oriental poppy, penstemons, balloon flower, black-eyed Susan, and sedum “Autumn Joy”. Hollyhocks, golden marguerite, artemisia, baby’s breath, candytuft, rose campion, sundrops and other evening primroses, lambs ears, and yucca can also resist a fair degree of drought.
Annuals that can withstand hot, dry conditions include annual coreopsis {C. tinctorea}, bachelor’s buttons, cosmos, Dahlberg daisy {Dyssodia tenuiloba}, morning glory, portulaca, snow-in-the-mountain, sunflower, California poppy, Mexican sunflower {Tithonia rotundifolia}, strawflower, spider flower, and zinnia.

Summer Gardening.

In summer, annuals combine with perennials and summer bulbs to provide a nonstop show of color.
And this can be an almost instantaneous show if you buy annuals as nearly full-grown plants from a garden center. Many perennials flower lavishly in late spring and early summer, and some, such as coreopsis, will continue blooming sporadically through much of the summer if you regularly dead-head them {remove their spent flowers}.
Summer is the time when the cutting garden is at its height. Pots, planters, and window boxes spill over with glorious hues of easy-to-grow geraniums, marigolds, and other annuals. You can group lots of containers on a deck, patio, or other outdoor living space to create a lush garden right where you like to picnic, read, or entertain in pleasant weather.
Summer is also the season for special kinds of gardens. If you like to spend time in your garden in the evening, you can plant some flowers that open or release their fragrance when the sun goes down. Or you can create a garden for a particular location, that’s dry or shady, by planting flowers that thrive in those conditions.
Summer offers a whole palette of brilliant as well as softer colors for the garden and for fresh bouquets.
This is where we will spend some time on this blog first, we will look at summer colors and a selection of the plants that make up the color palette for outdoor plantings and indoor arrangements. We will also address special kinds of gardens in containers, for fragrance, for nighttime enjoyment, for shade.
And because annuals play a special role in the summer garden, you’ll find guidance for them, too.

Water-Wise Gardening Techniques.

You can save water and still have a beautiful garden.
All it takes is noting moist and dry areas of your property and choosing the right plant for the right place.
Think of your yard as radiating outward from your house like a bull’s eye target. The wettest areas are closest to the house particularly around outdoor faucets where water drips, and the next wettest area is within reach of a 50- or 100-foot garden hose. Beyond the reach of your hose are the driest areas.
For efficient water use and healthy plants, grow water lover’s like ferns and woodland perennials near the house, and select drought-tolerant perennials with deep roots that can reach groundwater, such as coneflower, rudbeckia, and ornamental grasses, outside the reach of your garden hose.
If you live in a mild-winter climate, consider water-conserving garden plants that are native to South Africa, Australia, and the Mediterranean. Or select plants that are native to your region, which is naturally adapted to your local soil and rainfall.

These Drought-Tolerant Perennials Help Save Precious Resources.

Why drought-tolerant perennials? Growers want to save time and money on watering. Garden centers and homeowners want the same. Ever worked in a garden center in July? How much fun was it to water the perennials? It was miserable, wasn’t it? Once these perennials are settled into their new growing environment — whether it’s a 50-cell tray or a new garden, you’ll see how little water they need. Many growers are capturing and reusing water for less impact on the land, and many homeowners live in areas where watering restrictions are common.
Here are 11 of my favorite drought-tolerant perennials.
Angela Treadwell-Palmer is a cofounder of Plants Nouveau, a company that introduces new plants to the market; www.plantsnouveau.com.
Sedum ternatum ‘Larinem Park’
A drought-tolerant, white flowering groundcover sedum for dry shade. What more could you ask for?
Height: 6 inches
Width: 12-18 inches
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Vernonia lettermannii ‘Iron Butterfly’
This is one of the prettiest iron weeds on the market right now. It does not spread like the species, and the foliage has such a delicate texture. It fits right into cutting gardens, perennial borders and drought-tolerant plantings.
Height: 30-36 inches
Width: 30-26 inches
Hardiness: Zones 4-9
Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’
This is usually seen in moist, shady gardens, but once established, it can take full sun and dry shade. It’s amazingly versatile and it brightens up dry shade gardens so nicely.
Height: 10-14 inches
Width: 18 inches
Hardiness: Zones 5-9
Sporobolus heterolepis
Prairie dropseed is the most wonderful, delicately textured, clumping (or tussocking) grass on the market. It blooms in June and July and the plumes smell like buttered movie popcorn. It makes such a wonderful addition to a hot, dry perennial border or roadside municipal planting.
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 2-3 feet
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Silphium connatum 
 This plant likes to walk around a little, but it is easy to remove. This is a pass-over-the-fence plant. Share it with your neighbors. Children love the cup plants because they can grow up to 1 foot a week in the spring. The “cups” capture water from rains for insects to drink. It’s a really cool plant, for sure.
 Height: 8-10 feet
 Width: 4-5 feet
 Hardiness: Zones 4-8
Heuchera ‘Caramel’
One of the few heucheras on the market right now that will thrive in dry shade, a terrible spot for gardeners. This caramel-colored coral bell looks nice all season. The other selection I love for dry shade is ‘Stainless Steel.’ It mixes well with ‘Caramel’ and makes for a colorful, shady spot.
Height: 1 foot
Width: 1-2 feet
Hardiness: Zones 4-8
Echinacea pallida
Echinaceas are drought tolerant, but my favorite species is pallida with its wispy, pale pink ray petals. Of the new selections, my favorite is ‘Hot Papaya,’ with its amazing color, terrific drought tolerance, and the butterflies love it.
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 1-1½ feet
Hardiness: Zones 3-10
Schizachyrium scoparium
The Little bluestem will grow perfectly well in a roadside ditch. It likes really awful, dry, infertile garden soil. It’s the perfect plant for highway medians — especially some of the newer, more compact selections like ‘Prairie Munchkin’ that will be out in 2013 from Plants Nouveau.
Height: 2-4 feet
Width: 1½-2 feet
Hardiness: USDA
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Lavendula x intermedia ‘Provence’
Proven hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 6, this lavender, if kept dry, will live well and perform year after year in the driest, sunniest spots. Plant this with other herbs like thyme and rosemary for a truly Mediterranean, no-water-needed garden.
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 2-3 feet
Hardiness: Zones 5-8
Baptisia australis ‘Purple Smoke’
Once planted, don’t move your baptisia and it will perform well in clay, infertile, dry soils for many, many years. ‘Purple Smoke’ is nice because it’s the perfect middle of the perennial border plant. The species is just as drought tolerant, but this is a nice, softer color.
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 2 feet
Hardiness: Zones 4-8
Polystichum polyblepharum
One of the most drought tolerant, ornamental ferns on the market. The tassel fern looks plastic and will not skip a beat in dry shade.
Height: 1½-2 feet
Width: 1½-2 feet
Hardiness: Zones 5-8
All Gold: courtesy Thieneman’s Herbs & Perennials  /  Iron Butterfly: courtesy North Creek Nurseries  /  Provence: Park Seed  /  Silphium connatum : courtesy Indiana UniversitY, Purdue University Fort Wayne    Schizachyrium scoparium: courtesy Kansas State University  /  Sporobolus heterolepis: Julie Weisenhorn, University of Minnesota  /  FERN: courtesy Briggs  Nursery  /  Larinem Park: courtesy Secret Garden Growers  Purple Smoke: Angela Treadwell-Palmer  /  Echinacea: H. Zell

Lungwort

Pulmonaria Officinalis

Lungwort is a perennial herb that normally grows up to a height of one feet or 30 cm. The plant bears wide oval shaped leaves at the base, while the upper leaves are relatively smaller marked with the irregular color pattern, especially white spots. The lungwort plants also bear bunches of pink-purple colored flowers.

Going by the Middle Ages Doctrine of Signatures, an ancient European philosophy, herbs bearing parts that resembled human body parts, animals, or other objects, had useful relevancy to those parts, objects or animals. It may as well indicate to the surroundings or specific places in which herbs grew. Following this theory, lungwort is effective in treating chest ailments and hence its leaves bear resemblance to the lung tissues.

The lungwort plant is native to Europe and western Asia and belongs to the family of Boraginaceae and the Pulmonaria genus of flowering plants. One species of the plant – P. mollissima – is found in the region spreading from east to central Asia. Rough estimates prepared by various herbalists list around 10 to 18 species of Pulmonaria growing in the wild. However, researchers have found it extremely difficult and perplexing to classify or categorize (taxonomy) this species of the plant.

Interestingly, the scientific term Pulmonaria has been obtained from the Latin word Pulmo literally translated to English means ‘the lung’. During the period of ‘sympathetic magic’ (magic based on the belief that somebody or something can be supernaturally affected by something done to an object representing the person or thing) people were of the view that the white spots on the oval leaves of P. Officinalis were a sign of unhealthy lungs affected by ulcers. Consequently, they widely used the lungwort or medicines prepared from its derivatives to treat all pulmonary diseases. Significantly, owing to its properties to heal pulmonary diseases or infections of the lungs, the plant’s name in many languages refers to the lungs.

For instance, in English, it is known as ‘lungwort’, while in German it is called ‘Lungenkraut’. On the other hand, in some languages in Eastern Europe, the plant derives its common name from a word of ‘honey’. Like in Russian it is known as ‘medunitza’, while the Polish call it ‘miodunka plamista’ – both terms meaning ‘honey’ in the respective languages. In addition, in English lungwort also has many colloquial or idiomatic names – Soldiers and Sailors, Spotted Dog, Joseph and Mary, Jerusalem, Cowslip and Bethlehem Sage.

Plant Part Used

Leaves.

Herbal Remedy Use

The mucilage (a gummy substance secreted by some plants) properties of lungwort make it immensely helpful in treating chest problems, especially chronic bronchitis. In addition, lungwort may be blended with other herbs like coltsfoot for an effectual remedy for chronic coughs and also be administered for alleviating asthma. A combination of lungwort and coltsfoot is particularly effective in curing whooping cough. In addition, lungwort may also be used in curing ailments like a sore throat as well as jamming. Years ago, physicians applied lungwort for coughing up blood released owing to tubercular contagion. It may be mentioned here that leaves of lungwort plant are astringent (a substance that draws tissue together) in nature and are frequently used to impede bleeding.

The leaves, as well as the flowering shoots of lungwort, possess diuretic, astringent, demulcent (soothing), a little expectorant, emollient (relaxing) and resolvent (solvent) attributes. These parts of the herb are frequently employed for their curative impact when an individual is suffering from pulmonary ailments and their mucilaginous character makes these parts useful in the treatment of sore throats. The leaves as well as the flowering stems of lungwort are harvested during the spring and dried up for use when necessary afterward. Distilled water prepared from this herb is known to be effectual eyewash for healing tired eyes. In addition, a homeopathic remedy is also prepared using this herb. This homeopathic medication is employed to cure coughs, bronchitis as well as diarrhea.

Culinary 

The leaves of the herb lungwort also have culinary uses and they can be consumed either raw or after being cooked. The leaves may also be included in salads or employed in the form of a potherb. The leaves of lungwort have a rather insipid taste, but they have low fiber content and are favourable for being added into salads, despite their somewhat hairy and mucilaginous texture. However, the leaves of this herb are less acceptable for consumption on their own owing to these attributes. When cooked, the tender leaves of lungwort make a delicious vegetable. Nevertheless, the texture of the leaves has been found to be slightly oily. It may be noted that lungwort forms an element of the beverage known as Vermouth.

Habitat

Having its origin in Europe and the Caucasus, lungwort grows best in meadows at the foot of mountains and in humid locations. The leaves of lungwort are normally harvested in the latter part of spring.

The herb lungwort thrives well in any type of reasonably good soil, counting heavy clay soils. This herb has a preference for partial shade in a damp soil rich in humus content. Lungwort thrives well in shady places, especially beside tall buildings. The lungwort plants cultivated in shady locales are able to endure drought provided the soil has rich humus content. The leaves of this herb have a tendency to wither during hot weather in places where the herb is cultivated in full sunlight. The plants are resilient up to approximately 20ºC. Plants belonging to this genus are seldom if ever, bothered by rabbits and deer. Lungwort plants are a precious early on resource of nectar, especially for bees. This species has numerous named varieties, and are chosen for their decorative worth. Lungwort easily hybridizes with other plants belonging to the same genus.

Lungwort is generally propagated by its seeds, which are sown in a greenhouse during the spring. When the seedlings have grown adequately big to be handled, prick them out independently and plant them in separate containers. The young plants need to be grown in a greenhouse during the first year of their existence. The plants may be transplanted outdoors into the permanent locations during the later part of spring or early summer when the last anticipated frost has passed.

Alternately, lungwort may also be propagated by means of root division done either during the spring or in autumn. In case the soil is not very arid, the root division may also be undertaken during the early part of summer following the flowering season of the plants. Propagating lungwort through root division is extremely simple and you may directly plant the larger divisions outdoors into their permanent locations. It has, however, been found that it is better to grow the smaller divisions initially in pots in a cold frame in a slightly shady location. When these are properly established, they may be planted outdoors in their permanent positions during the later part of spring or in early summer.

Constituents

Chemical analysis of lungwort has shown that the herb encloses tannins, flavonoids, saponins, vitamin C. However, dissimilar to many other members of the borage family, lungwort does not comprise pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Infusions and Tinctures

Lungwort can be ingested both as an infusion as well as a tincture. To prepare an infusion of the herb, add one to two teaspoons of dried up lungwort in a cup of boiling water and leave it to permeate for around 10 to 15 minutes. An individual should drink the infusion prepared from lungwort thrice daily. In the case of your favor lungwort tincture, ingest 1 ml to 4 ml of the herbal tincture daily.

APRIL IN THE LOW DESERT

In April, the desert comes alive with colors, smells and sounds. If rains were plentiful during the fall and winter months, a dazzling array of color will have bestowed the desert floor with many annuals such as Mexican Gold Poppies (Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana), Owl-clover (Castilleja exserta), Lupines (Lupinus spp.), Yellow Evening Primrose (Oenothera primiveris ssp. primiveris), Bladderpod (Lesquerella gordonii), Scorpionweeds (Phacelia spp.), Chia (Salvia columbariae), and Desert Pincushion (Chaenactis stevioides).

Many deciduous trees will begin to produce new leaves as the weather becomes warmer. Look for: Mesquites (Prosopis spp.), Desert-willow (Chilopsis linearis), Golden Leadball Tree (Leucaena retusa), Catclaw Acacia (Senegalia greggii syn. Acacia greggii), Feather Tree (Lysiloma watsonii), Anacacho Orchid-tree (Bauhinia lunarioides), and Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia orthocarpa).

Leaves of the Boojum Tree (Fouquieria columnaris) and Elephant Tree (Pachycormus discolor) will begin to yellow and drop. The Boojum Tree and Elephant Tree are summer-dormant. Periods of active growth begin from about November through May. When the leaves of both succulents begin to drop, careful watering is needed.

Look upward to see the Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) flower buds forming atop the stems. The majestic Ironwood tree (Olneya tesota) will shed some of its leaves in preparation for flowering.

Plant your Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) from March through May as these are the ideal months to achieve greater transplanting success.

Karoo-roses (Adenium spp.) should be “waking” from their winter dormancy. Leaves and flowers should start appearing on the succulent stems. You can begin to fertilize and water your Karoo-rose throughout the warm-season.

Other winter-dormant succulents that should be exhibiting renewed growth with increasingly warmer weather include: Limberbushes (Jatropha spp.), Burseras (Bursera spp.), Uncarina spp., Pachypodium spp., Fockea spp., Cyphostemma juttae, and Globeberries (Ibervillea spp.). Allow your succulent plants to produce new leaves to determine whether or not any pruning of frost damaged stems will be needed. Regular and careful watering can resume for many of these warm-season growing succulents.

BLOOMING HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS, GROUNDCOVERS AND VINES CAN INCLUDE:
• Sundrops (Calylophus hartwegii)
• Angelita-daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)
• Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha)
• Pineleaf Milkweed (Asclepias linaria)
• Winecups (Callirhoe involucrata)
• Twinberry (Menodora scabra)
• Old Man’s Beard (Clematis drummondii)
• Slender Janusia (Janusia gracilis)
• Sweetbush (Bebbia juncea)
• Palmer’s Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri)
• Canyon Penstemon (Penstemon pseudospectabilis)
• Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)
• Shrubby Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens)
• Hill Country Penstemon (Penstemon triflorus)
• Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)
• Desert Milkweed (Asclepias subulata)
• Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)
• Perezia (Acourtia wrightii)
• Blue Mist (Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Dark Knight’)
• Odora (Porophyllum gracile)
• Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
• Trailing Indigo Bush (Dalea greggii)
• Fleabane (Erigeron divergens)
• Dyssodia (Thymophylla pentachaeta)
BLOOMING SHRUBS CAN INCLUDE: 
• Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
• Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii)
• Cleveland’s Sage (Salvia clevelandii)
• White Sage (Salvia apiana)
• Mexican-buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa)
• Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
• Wright’s Bee Bush (Aloysia wrightii)
• Beebrush (Aloysia gratissima)
• Flat-top Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
• Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa)
• Creosote (Larrea tridentata)
• Parish’s Goldeneye (Viguiera parishii)
• Superstition Mallow (Abutilon palmeri)
• Desert-honeysuckle (Anisacanthus thurberi)
• Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)
• Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
• Desert Hackberry (Celtis ehrenbergiana syn. Celtis pallida)
• Desert-lavender (Hyptis emoryi)
Mormon-teas (Ephedra spp.) will be producing male and female cones.
BLOOMING TREES CAN INCLUDE: 
• Little-leaf Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)
• Feather Tree (Lysiloma watsonii)
• Guajillo (Senegalia berlandieri syn. Acacia berlandieri)
• Catclaw Acacia (Senegalia greggii syn. Acacia greggii)
• Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia orthocarpa)
• Baby Bonnets (Coursetia glandulosa)
• Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina)
• Anacacho Orchid-tree (Bauhinia lunarioides)
• Desert-willow (Chilopsis linearis)
BLOOMING CACTI AND SUCCULENTS CAN INCLUDE:
• Engelmann’s Hedgehog (Echinocereus engelmannii)
• Bonker Hedgehog (Echinocereus bonkerae)
• Strawberry Hedgehog (Echinocereus fasciculatus)
• Golden Hedgehog (Echinocereus nicholii)
• Lady Finger Cactus (Echinocereus pentalophus)
• Powder Puff Pincushion (Mammillaria bocasana)
• Lady Finger Cactus (Mammillaria elongata)
Thelocactus macdowellii
• Black-spined Prickly-pear (Opuntia macrocentra)
• Engelmann’s Prickly-pear (Opuntia engelmannii)
• Santa-Rita Prickly-pear (Opunta santa-rita)
• Indian Fig (Opuntia ficus-indica)
• Buckhorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa)
• Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)
• Silver Cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa)
• Diamond Cholla (Cylindropuntia ramosissima)
• Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marginatus)
•  Senita (Pachycereus schottii)
• Cardón (Pachycereus pringlei)
• Candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica)
Euphorbia xantii
• Karoo-roses (Adenium spp.)
• Live Forever (Dudleya saxosa ssp. collomiae)
• Texas False-agave (Hechtia texensis)
• Blue Yucca (Yucca rigida)
• Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata)
• Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)
• Mohave Yucca (Yucca schidigera)
• Eve’s Needle (Yucca faxoniana)
• Leatherstem (Jatropha dioica)

Many agaves may start or exhibit signs of blooming. Look for an inflorescence (a flower cluster with a definite arrangement of the flowers on a stalk/stem) forming at the center of plant.

Watering

If you have not turned on your irrigation timer, now is the time to do so. Test the timer to see if it is working properly and replace back-up batteries if necessary. Check for leaks and clogged emitters and flush out the poly lines.

The amount of water and watering frequency depends on many factors. These include: soil type, weather (temperature, humidity, rainfall, etc.), microclimates, cultural practices, plant size and species, and whether newly planted or established in the landscape (two years or more). Below are general guidelines to help you determine how much and how often to water your landscape and container plantings to keep them healthy when rainfall is lacking.

Established native or desert-adapted trees and shrubs should be watered at least once to twice monthly. Water at least 3 feet deep for your trees and 2 feet deep for your shrubs. Always allow soil to dry out between each irrigation cycle.

Natural rainfall may be adequate for most well-established cacti and succulents. However, if rainfall is insufficient, water may be needed at least once to twice during the month of April. Water your cacti and succulents to a depth of at least 8-12 inches. Always allow soil to dry out between each irrigation cycle.

Established herbaceous perennials, groundcovers and vines should be watered every two to three weeks and at least 1 foot deep. Always allow soil to dry out between each irrigation cycle.

Wait a week after planting your cacti and succulents before watering to minimize the chance of rot. After the initial irrigation of your succulents, allow the soil to dry out and water every 10-14 days. Cacti may need to be watered once more after initial watering during the month of April, but allow the soil to dry out between watering.

Newly planted native and desert-adapted trees and shrubs need to be watered more frequently until established. It can take up to 3-5 years for trees and at least 1-2 years for shrubs to become established in the landscape. After planting your trees and shrubs, they should be watered immediately and for the next few days to keep the root ball from drying out. Schedule your irrigation cycle for trees and shrubs every 7-10 days. Allow the soil to dry out between irrigations and always water deeply, 3 feet for trees and 2 feet for shrubs.

Newly planted native and desert-adapted herbaceous perennials, groundcovers and vines should be watered immediately and for the next few days to keep the root ball from drying out. Schedule your irrigation cycle for herbaceous perennials, groundcovers and vines for at least once to twice weekly and to a depth of 1 foot. Allow soil to dry out between watering.

Continue to water your annual wildflowers at least every two weeks to prolong flowering.

Agaves and other succulents (Aloe spp., Dudleya spp., Cotyledon spp., Pedilanthus macrocarpus, Euphorbia spp., Haworthia spp.) in containers should be watered at least once to twice this month. Cacti in containers should be watered at least once this month. However, cacti and succulents in small containers may need to be watered more often especially cacti and succulent seedlings.

Keep an eye on your warm-season annuals and herbaceous perennials in containers. Water them at least once to twice weekly.

What To Plant

PLANT WARM-SEASON CACTI AND SUCCULENTS INCLUDING:
• Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)
• Prickly-pears (Opuntia spp.)
• Chollas (Cylindropuntia spp.)
• Barrel cacti (Ferocactus spp.)
• Hedgehogs (Echinocereus spp.)
• Pincushions (Mammillaria spp.)
• Agaves (Agave spp.)
• Aloes (Aloe spp.)
• Candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica)
• Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)
• Red-yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)
• Giant Hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera)
• Slipper Plant (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)
• Elephant Food (Portulacaria afra)
• Burseras (Bursera spp.)
• Texas-tuberose (Manfreda maculosa)
• Limberbushes (Jatropha spp.)
Many Yuccas (Yucca spp.) can be planted in April with the exception of Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia).

When transplanting cacti and succulents, mark either the south or west side and plant facing the orientation you marked to avoid the burning of tender tissues. Most nurseries will mark the side of the container to help you determine proper planting orientation. However, if the original orientation is not known, newly planted cacti and succulents need to be covered with shade cloth if the plant surface appears to yellow or pale suddenly. Use a shade cloth rated between 30-60% as anything higher will block most of the sunlight and will not be suitable for your cacti and succulents. You may need to keep the shade cloth on the plant for the duration of the summer.

PLANT NATIVE AND DESERT-ADAPTED TREES INCLUDING: 
• Ironwood (Olneya tesota)
• Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)
• Little-leaf Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)
• Mesquites (Prosopis spp.)
• Golden Leadball Tree (Leucaena retusa)
• Desert-willow (Chilopsis linearis)
• Palo Blanco (Mariosousa willardiana syn. Acacia willardiana)
• Catclaw Acacia (Senegalia greggii syn. Acacia greggii)
• Feather Tree (Lysiloma watsonii)
• Anacacho Orchid-tree (Bauhinia lunarioides)
• Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus)
• Baby Bonnets (Coursetia glandulosa)
PLANT WARM-SEASON SHRUBS INCLUDING: 
• Yellow Bells (Tecoma spp.)
• Texas Sages (Leucophyllum spp.)
• Creosote (Larrea tridentata)
• Superstition Mallow (Abutilon palmeri)
• San Marcos Hibiscus (Gossypium harknessii)
• Desert Cotton (Gossypium thurberi)
• Guayacán (Guaiacum coulteri)
• Sennas (Senna spp.)
• Velvet-pod Mimosa (Mimosa dysocarpa)
• Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
• Fire Bush (Hamelia patens)
• Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
• Lantana (Lantana camara)
• Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)
• Silver Nightshade (Solanum hindsianum)
• Little-leaf Cordia (Cordia parvifolia)
• Showy Mendora (Menodora longiflora)
• Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)
• Bird of Paradise species (Caesalpinia spp.)
PLANT WARM-SEASON HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS AND GROUNDCOVERS INCLUDING: 
• Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)
• Desert Four O’Clock (Mirabilis multiflora)
• Arizona Foldwing (Dicliptera resupinata)
• Buffalo Gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima)
• Mealy-cup Sage (Salvia farinacea)
• Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica)
• Rosemallow (Hibiscus coulteri)
• Wine Cups (Callirhoe involucrata)
• Hummingbird Trumpet (Epilobium canum ssp. latifolium)
• Lemon Dalea (Dalea capitata)
• Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
• Desert Senna (Senna covesii)
• Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)
• White Plumbago (Plumbago scandens)
• Mist Flower (Conoclinium dissectum)
• Rain Lilies (Zephyranthes spp.)
MANY VINES CAN ALSO BE PLANTED AT THIS TIME INCLUDING: 
• Yuca (Merremia aurea)
• Queen’s Wreath (Antigonon leptopus)
• Yellow Orchid-vine (Callaeum macropterum)
• Passionflowers (Passiflora spp.)
• Arizona Canyon Grape (Vitis arizonica)
• Old Man’s Beard (Clematis drummondii)
When planting native and desert-adapted plants, it is usually unnecessary to back-fill with soil amendments and vitamins or to add rooting hormones. However, a slow-release fertilizer high in nitrogen and phosphorous can be added to the backfill, if necessary.

Many cacti can be started from seed at this time. Seed can be soaked overnight in water to help begin the germination process. Place seed in a well-draining soil mix (½ quality potting soil and ½ perlite or pumice) and lightly cover with potting mix or gently press the seed into the soil. Keep soil moist until germination occurs.

SOW SEED OF WARM-SEASON ANNUALS AND HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS INCLUDING:  
• Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera)
• Red Sage (Salvia coccinea)
• Mexican Chia (Salvia hispanica)
• Tarahumara Chia (Salvia tiliaefolia)
• Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and the numerous cultivars
• Summer Chia (Hyptis suaveolens)
• Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
• Tickseeds (Coreopsis spp.)
• Golden Crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides)
VEGETABLES TO TRANSPLANT INCLUDE:
• Jerusalem artichoke
• sweet potato
VEGETABLE SEEDS TO SOW INCLUDE: 
• Lima beans and summer squash
(first part of April)
• amaranth
• eggplant
• carrots
• cucumbers
• jicama
• cantaloupe
• muskmelon
• watermelon
• okra
• green onions
• peanuts
• radishes
• tomatillos
• pumpkins
• snap beans
• black-eyed peas
• yardlong beans
Try the various beans from Native Seeds/SEARCH. Gourd and squash seeds should also be sown during the month of April. Presoak gourd and squash seeds overnight for better germination. Try the many varieties from Native Seeds/SEARCH.

HERB SEEDS TO SOW INCLUDE:
• Anise
• basil
• catnip
• epazote
• feverfew
• horehound
• lemon balm
• safflower
• winter and summer savory

HERBS TO TRANSPLANT INCLUDE: 
• Mexican-oregano (Lippia graveolens)
• Cuban-oregano
• bay
• basil
• chives
• curry
• French tarragon
• garlic chives
• germander
• horehound
• hyssop
• lemon balm
• lemon grass
• lemon verbena
• marjoram
• mint
• oregano
• rue
• sage
• santolina
• winter and summer savory
• scented geraniums
• tansy
• thyme
• yarrow

 

 

PRUNING

Pruning should be done to maintain plant health (remove dead, damaged or diseased portions, cross branching, etc.), to highlight the “natural” shape of the plant, to train a young plant, and to eliminate hazards. Excessive or heavy pruning causes significant stress to trees and shrubs. The best practices are to prune the least amount necessary and prune for legitimate reasons. How much to prune depends on the size, species, age, as well as your intentions. Two pruning principles to remember–a tree or shrub can recover from several small pruning wounds faster than from a single large wound and never remove more than 25% of the canopy in a year. Visit www.treesaregood.org. for information on proper pruning of young and mature trees.

Continue to prune evergreen trees.

Lightly prune your Mesquites (Prosopis spp.) and Palo Verdes (Parkinsonia spp.) after bud break or after flowering.

Pruning newly planted trees and shrubs is not recommended and in fact can be detrimental. However, corrective pruning of broken or torn branches and/or limbs can be done at planting time. Save other pruning activities for the second or third year. For more information on developing a healthy tree visit www.treesaregood.org.

Continue to prune frost-damaged plants. If possible, finish pruning frost-damaged plants by the end of April so new growth can establish before the summer heat.

Continue to prune summer and fall flowering shrubs by mid-month including: 
• Texas Sages (Leucophyllum spp.)
• Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans) and cultivars
• Lantana (Lantana camara)
• Turpentine Bush (Ericameria laricifolia)
• Black Dalea (Dalea frutescens)
• Mexican-honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)
• Sky Flower (Duranta erecta)

Wait to prune your Prickly-pears (Opuntia spp.) and Chollas (Cylindropuntia spp.) until after flowering. Spent stalks of aloes, agaves, and other succulents can be removed at this time.

Warm-season herbaceous perennials, groundcovers, and vines can be pruned at this time including:  
• Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)
• Plumbago (Plumbago scandens)
• Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera)
• Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)
• Mealy-cup Sage (Salvia farinacea)
• Yellow Dot (Sphagneticola trilobata)
• Rock Verbena (Glandularia pulchella)
• Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)
• Dyssodia (Thymophylla pentachaeta)
• Queen’s Wreath (Antigonon leptopus)
• Passion Vines (Passiflora spp.)
• Yellow Orchid-vine (Callaeum macropterum)

Prune by cutting back to emerging growth or to the basal rosette ( a group of leaves arranged from a central point).

Continue to deadhead annuals and herbaceous perennials to encourage continued flowering including Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata), Red Sage (Salvia coccinea), Angelita-daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), and Gaillardia (Gaillardia pulchella).

Many herbs such as Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida), French tarragon and pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) may be emerging from the roots by now. Prune to new growth to remove old or frost damaged stems

FERTILIZATION

Most native and desert-adapted plants in the landscape do not generally require fertilizer as they are adapted to our soil conditions. In most cases, fertilizers are generally applied to prevent deficiencies. If fertilizers are needed, one application for the year is usually sufficient. If you did not fertilize last month, go ahead and fertilize your landscape plants if necessary.

Now is the time to fertilize your warm-season cacti, succulents, herbaceous and woody perennials, and annuals in containers if you haven’t done so already. Periodic fertilization may be needed for plants in containers as nutrients will have diminished in the soil over time. Always follow directions on the label.

Continue to fertilize your vegetable and herb garden as needed. If you have not applied a layer of composted mulch, now is a good time to add to your beds to help conserve moisture

PROBLEMS

Aphids can be found on landscape plants or on your vegetables and herbs. Allow natural predators such as lacewings, praying mantis, lady beetles, parasitic wasps, and even hummingbirds to control the aphid population. You can also spray with insecticidal soap, but check to make sure beneficial insects are not present.

If you notice a tattered appearance on your landscape plants such as Evening Primroses (Oenothera spp.), Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii) and Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri) it may be the flea beetle in action. A different species of flea beetle may also harm your vegetables including tomatoes, eggplants, carrots, and cabbages. The flea beetle larvae and adults can be destructive and they can be difficult to control.

You may notice small, circular cuts on the leaf margins at this time. This is the handiwork of leaf-cutter bees, important pollinators. The leaf-cutter bees use the cut leaf to line their nest and then lay an egg in each cavity. The damage is cosmetic and does not harm the plant. Control methods are unnecessary.

Cochineal scale, the cottony, white substance on your Prickly-pears (Opuntia spp.) and Chollas (Cylindropunita spp.) may be active now. Remove by using a fast stream of water or spray insecticidal soap.

Fine webbing between leaves or stippling on leaves may indicate the presence of spider mites. These plant mites cause damage by sucking contents from the leaves and are difficult to detect due to their small size. Plants that are water stressed may become susceptible to infestation. Dusty conditions can also lead to spider mite outbreaks. Make sure your plants are well-watered and wash off accumulated dust on plants to manage spider mite problems. You can also remove by using a fast spray of water or by spraying insecticidal soap to control populations. There are many biological controls that feed on spider mites including lacewings, predatory mites, lady bugs and big-eyed bugs. Using insecticides is not recommended as insecticides do not help manage the population, but can actually cause the population to intensify because insecticides used will often kill their natural enemies. Some insecticides can even accelerate mite reproduction.

Psyllids may be active during the month of April. Psyllids are sap feeders and many are plant specific or feed on a closely related group of plants. High populations of psyllids can cause distortion and dieback of new growth, and in some cases defoliation. To keep populations under control do not overwater or over fertilize your plants as this causes excessive growth. Yellow sticky traps can also be used to control the adult population.

A noticeable, fine web may be present on your Palo Verde trees and even from time to time on the Whitethorn Acacia (Vachellia constricta syn. Acacia constricta).  This “webbing” is produced by the Palo Verde webworms, often called Palo Verde webbers. The webworm is a small caterpillar that feeds on the leaves and occasionally the bark of the small stems.  The Palo Verde and Whitethorn Acacia are resilient to an infestation of webworms so control methods are unnecessary. The caterpillars and adult moths are an important food source for many lizards and birds.

Agave snout weevils become active during the warm months and infestation may not be apparent until it is too late.

Look for mealy bugs on your cacti and succulents. These scale insects can be difficult to control due to their ability to reproduce rapidly and they quickly acquire resistance to chemical controls. Spray mealy bugs with a 70% alcohol-water solution.

A white, frothy substance may be visible on plant stems. This is caused by spittlebugs. Manage by spraying stem off with a strong jet of water to remove the infestation.Spittle bugs generally do not cause much damage to plants.

Noticeable leaf damage may be seen on the Texas Mountain-laurel (Calia secundiflora syn. Sophora secundiflora) during the warm months. The damage is caused by the sophora pyralid caterpillars feeding on the tender new growth. These ravenous caterpillars are approximately an inch long with orange bodies and interesting black spots with white hairs.

As the weather warms, whiteflies may be present on your landscape, vegetable and herb plants. These tiny white insects have sucking mouthparts that cause leaves to yellow, wilt and drop prematurely. The immature nymph stage does more harm to the plant than the adult. Whiteflies can be difficult to control. Allow natural predators such as spiders, ladybugs, lacewings and even hummingbirds to control the population. Yellow sticky traps can also be used to control the adult population.

While sitting underneath your desert trees, you may notice a light “rain” falling. This is the smoke tree sharpshooter insect expelling sap as it draws from a variety of plants including Palo Verdes (Parkinsonia spp.), Beebrush (Aloysia gratissima), Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia spp.) and Hackberries (Celtis spp.). The smoke tree sharpshooter insects have gone virtually unnoticed until they threatened oleanders, shrubs widely used in low-desert landscapes for screening hedges. They gained notoriety because they are able to transmit a deadly bacterial disease called oleander leaf scorch. Our native plants do not appear to be adversely affected by the sharpshooter insects so no control is necessary.

If you notice a rank odor and black ooze dripping down the saguaro stem(s), the plant may have developed an infection as a result of an injury or frost damage. The infection is caused by the Erwinia bacteria, a common bacterium found in the environment.

You may notice rabbits eating new,

Weeds that germinated with the fall-winter rains will begin to flower at this time. You can manually remove by hand or for larger areas spray with glyphosate following directions on the label. Adding a small amount of marker dye in the glyphosate solution can be helpful to avoid spraying the same areas twice. When using a chemical spray use an old pair of shoes that will never be worn indoors. The glyphosate product can be used around cacti and most succulents without damaging them. It is also inactive in the soil so it will not harm the roots of other plants.

A Gentle Daily Dose

Bitters:

If you wanted to get your body into good physical fitness, would you choose to exercise vigorously for 1-2 weeks of the year and otherwise remain inactive? If you wanted to live in a clean home, would you obsessively scour every nook and cranny for five straight days and every other 360 days let the mess pile up around you?  Unless you’re a wise-cracker, I’m going to go ahead and guess you answered “no” to those questions. It’s only common sense and, in fact, the model described above can be detrimental. 

Why, then, has our culture become so fond of the high-intensity detox cleanse? While there is certainly a place for narrowing in on specific dietary and lifestyle habits for a short period of time as, say, a gentle Spring cleaning or for particular health-related reasons, our focus on extreme cleanses is in general both misguided and ineffectual. 

If you’re looking to improve your health and feel better in your body, the real key is in making more subtle long-term shifts. Mohamed Ali is quoted as saying, “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you down, it’s the pebble in your shoe”. So, let’s take a look at that pebble in your shoe; for addressing that is where you will find a sustained change in your life and in your health. And you’ll feel a marked difference once you do. 

An extreme cleanse could get you to the top of the mountain, but you may very well be hurting once you arrive and it’s unlikely you’ll be making it back up there again anytime soon. Instead, take a reasonable look at that pebble. Focus on moving your body every day and eating good protein, healthy fats and lots of greens. Make time for gratitude, deep breaths, and connection. With these gentle, sustained shifts, the stamina to climb any mountain will always be at your fingertips. 

It is in these simple daily rituals that we call on bitters to do their best work and to keep us in our best shape. While it would be helpful to have a bottle of bitters with you for your yearly sprint up the mountain, they offer the most as a tonic. Taken daily before meals, your body will thank you for all of the health benefits they provide.

Enjoy the liver support bitters offer and expect a clean burning metabolism, clear, healthy skin, and fewer cravings. Appreciate how they support your digestion, and soothe gas and bloating. Note that bitters actually encourage digestive secretions, which in turns helps you absorb the most nourishment available in all that healthy food you are eating. Most of all, take small daily strides for your health and appreciate the energy and clarity that accompanies you each step of the way on your hike through life.

Springtime Herbs To Have On Hand

Traditionally, the days around the Vernal Equinox (mid to late March) and the month(s) after it was seen as a time of intense, rushing energy: days get longer and the sunlight more intense, the first signs of green growth emerge, and wildlife stirs again. Herbalists still consider this a time when the more inward, ‘congealing’ energies of Winter begin to transition into the more outward, ‘expansive’ energies of Summer—and when a little attention paid to the process can improve vitality, strengthen digestion and immunity, and keep us in tune with the changing seasons.

There are specific herbal allies that have gained a deserved reputation for aiding in this transition, and each has its own peculiar “virtues” and affinities. All, however, rely somewhat on two basic strategies: either enhancing digestive and eliminative function or bolstering the power of the body’s immune and hormonal systems. Some do both! And generally, it was (and still is) considered a good idea to start with enhancing absorption and elimination, and then proceed with strengthening the underlying physiology.

The old recipes for “root beers” can be somewhat instructive in this regard: they often feature a combination of bitter roots (which enhance elimination) coupled with aromatic, sometimes pungent ingredients (which improve digestion) and hormonal tonics (to enhance energy and vitality). Many of the herbs and botanicals listed below can be combined along these lines to make a customized spring tonic for yourself or your friends and family, helping to ride along the tides of Spring and get ready for Summer. The last detail in the herbalists’ crafting of vernal concoctions is an attention to the constitution and physiological peculiarities of the individual using the tonic.

Generally, these are pretty obvious considerations – but one point to remember is to try to add “cooling” herbs for those expressing signs of overactivity, heat, and inflammation; and “warming” herbs for those showing signs of sluggishness, depression, chill, and frequent infections. Often eliminative herbs are more cooling, and tonic herbs warmer. Botanicals listed below have their traditional energetic value added as a start in this process.

Tree sap
Often from maples (Acer saccharum, and other species), the sap of Birches (Betula spp.) can also be used. I like to use the unheated, unfiltered sap as a tonic all by itself: this “tree juice” provides unaltered enzymes as well as sugars and minerals ready for optimal absorption. It can also be used as a base for decocting (simmering) some of the roots and barks described below. Usually, a pint to a quart daily is consumed – though more is not necessarily a bad thing! Alternatively, you can reconstitute a similar liquid by using about a tablespoon of maple syrup per pint of spring water.

Burdock (Arctium lappa)
This root, generally cooling in energy though somewhat tonic too, can be eaten as one would a carrot, or simmered into a tonic brew. It is best suited for those with dryer skin, and perhaps an underactive appetite. Its chief traditional use is for acne and other skin complaints. Use about 2 TBS per pint of water, along with other herbs.

burdock-01-web

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)A true remedy that synergizes well with herbs for almost any ailment, Dandelion is a catalyst for change that gently and safely enhances digestive and eliminative function. When in doubt, this is the root to pick! Its yellow flowers remind us early on that it’s time to pay a little attention to our bodies this time of year. The root’s energy is somewhat cooling, and it enhances detoxification through the liver, helping to resolve gassiness and sluggishness that may have accumulated after a winter of congestive, thick foods. Use about 2 TBS of chopped root per pint of water.

dandelion spring tonic

Yellow dock (Rumex Crispus)
These roots are more bitter and are best for those who might have a tendency toward constipation. They combine well with any of the other cooling, bitter roots and improve liver function and elimination. Generally, I suggest using Yellowdock for shorter (1-2 weeks) periods than Dandelion or Burdock, but it is still quite a safe plant. 1 TBS of chopped root per pint is usually adequate to relieve somewhat sluggish digestion.

yellow dock

Echinacea (E. purpurea, E. Angustifolia, and others)
This is a cooling, dispersive root that possesses a good degree of pungency as well. Its chief use as a springtime tonic is to help boost immunity, especially if there are or have been any swollen glands or recurrent respiratory infections associated with winter illness. It can also help dry, scratchy throats that sometimes linger into spring. While I often recommend an extract, the roots are excellent too provided they are simmered for a little while (10-15 minutes). This time of year the plants are just starting to poke up from the soil, making it easy to find and dig out of the garden. Use 2 TBS of chopped root per pint of water.

Echinacea02

Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)
An abundant relative of Ginseng, this plant possesses starches and bitter saponins that counteract fatigue and gently warm the system to enhance vitality and elimination at the same time. It also has hormone-balancing effects, especially in relation to stress hormones, making it a good adjunct for those who have intense work or personal lives, or who rely heavily on stimulants. It is a little difficult to recognize and find early in the season before the greens emerge, so marking it out in the fall can help with digging the long rhizomes in the spring. Use a piece or pieces of rhizome about the length of your index finger in a pint of water.

Spikenard (Aralia racemosa)
Another Ginseng relative, this is a sweet, spicy and warming root that is most indicated as a tonic for hormonal and respiratory function, particularly for those with chronic lung congestion. Use only 1 TBS per pint – it is a potent ally.

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius)
Also called groundnut, this is a nourishing and rebuilding tonic that is somewhat rare in the wild, so it should be used judiciously. It flowers early in the spring, and though only a few inches tall, packs a flavor and power that is quite excellent for warming deficient constitutions that have become sluggish and undernourished over winter. If you find a good stand of it (make sure you have the correct plant ID!), you can have one corymb (a round, underground “bulb” attached to a delicate white root) two or three times a week eaten raw, straight from the forest floor, or simmered into your tonic brew.

goldthreadGoldthread (Coptis Canadensis)
This is a very bitter, cooling, a detoxifying and anti-inflammatory plant that you really don’t need a lot of. It chief indication is chronic inflammation, perhaps also involving the skin, and a more “oily” skin pattern that could benefit from drying. It enhances digestive function when taken before meals, improves sluggish bowels, and clears heat that settled into joints and muscles over the winter months. Some have reported an improvement in allergies and sensitivities. It is also evergreen, which makes it easy to find even under a little snow cover! Its thin rhizome is bright yellow, and the above-ground greens are useful too. Use one to two plants (4-5 inches of root total) per pint of tonic brew.

Sarsaparilla (various Smilax species)
Not a local Vermont plant, the root bark from this vine is still such a classic spring tonic that it bears mention. It has a distinctive, warming and spicy flavor that, while enhancing digestion, is most powerful at adjusting hormonal balance (thyroid, adrenal, and reproductive hormones) and I have always found it useful for stubborn skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis (often worse after the dry indoor heat of winter). Sarsaparilla has a strong flavor, so experiment with taste until you find what you like. It is usually available at the herbs store; start with ½ to 1 TBS per pint.

Sassafrass (S. albidum)
The FDA doesn’t appreciate the use of this bark anymore, due to its safrole content, which is considered carcinogenic. Its distinctive spicy/sweet and warming flavor and energy make it perhaps the most classic “root beer” ingredient, evoking memories of times when their brews were actually made from plants… And, for a few weeks each spring, consuming sassafrass provides such a negligible amount of safrole that, truly, doesn’t compare to pumping gasoline in terms of cancer risk. I would use about 2 TBS of dry bark per pint of brew, but I really like the flavor. Experiment and add to taste.

Cleavers (Galium aparine)
This green, as well as its cousin sweet woodruff, comes out a bit later in the spring but makes an invaluable cooling tonic for folks who are prone to swelling from chronic inflammation, edema, or water retention. They can be juiced and an ounce of juice taken as a daily tonic or steep into a more complex tonic after roots have been taken off the fire. Use about 2 TBS of chopped herb.

Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Though green, this herb is actually a bit warming and drying. It is great for those who show signs of water retention (sometimes evidenced by a swollen, “scalloped” tongue), or those in need of iron and other nutritive minerals. Finally, it’s mildly detoxifying qualities can help in seasonal allergies. Herbalists use the young, fresh leaves in soups or steep into an herbal brew after the roots are done simmering – about 2 TBS or more of chopped leaves per day.

nettle

Dandelion greens (Taraxacum officinale)
We would walk through the meadows, before they fully became green with grass, looking for the young rosettes of dandelions and collecting them whole, along with the crown of the root. Back home, my aunt would dress them with olive oil and wine vinegar, for an abundant (though bitter) spring salad. These greens improve digestion, enhance elimination through the kidneys, and are loaded with important minerals. Their reputation for cooling overheated constitutions extends to the cardiovascular system. They are excellent eaten fresh as part of salads or wilted in soups or stir-fry; alternatively, steep 2 TBS of chopped leaves into an herbal brew after the roots are done simmering.

dand-greens1

Mustard greens (Brassica species)
There is a wide range of mustards that come up quick in springtime since they are so tolerant of late frosts. They are warm and spicy, wake up the digestion and liver, and additionally contain compounds that show much promise in preventing and treating cancer. Of course, they are best as part of a wild food salad or cooked in soups (though they lose a lot of pungencies if cooked). I don’t normally brew these into tea.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
This is a very aromatic and cooling plant, rich in anti-inflammatory salicylates and endowed with wonderful flavor, another aroma often found in classic root beer preparations. It is a good digestive normalizer, especially if there is a lot of gas, bloating, and irritation; it can also help with chronic inflammatory conditions of the joints and back especially if these get worse over the more sedentary winter months. Steep 5 or 6 fresh leaves in 8oz of herbal brew, covered so as to not lose the volatile aroma, and do not boil!

Birch bark (Betula species)
The black birch is perhaps the most flavorful, but the bark of any species yields a wintergreen-like essence that is similarly cooling, and much more readily available. Use a good handful of crushed bark (perhaps a cupful) per pint of water, and add it to your brew for the last two or three minutes of simmering.

A note on preparation
Many of the plants mentioned above release their medicinal constituents during a process of light simmering, known as “decocting”. The resulting brew is often called a “decoction”. It is best accomplished by simmering the herbs in a stainless steel container, covered, for 15 minutes or so on low heat. Afterward, the brew can be removed from the heat and more delicate greens added and left in the pot, covered, for another 10-15 minutes or so. Finally, strain the brew and drink immediately, or bottle for 1-2 days.