Horticultural Tips and Tidbits

Looking for software to draw landscaping designs? Try Excel – making column widths equal to row heights produces instant graph paper.  Create landscaping symbols using the drawing toolbar on PowerPoint.  Copy and paste into Excel.     You don’t need special “landscaping” software to draw good designs. Simple drawing tools and standard shapes will do.   For a sample of a Memorial Garden design.

> If you have an identified plant but are not certain about how to care for it, do some research either in books or on the Internet (using botanical, not common name) regarding its origin or place where it grows in its natural environment. If you can duplicate that environment or come as close to it as possible in providing for the specific need of the plant in it’s natural environment, you will be able to grow it and achieve it’s ornamental potential.

> A plant cultivar can be discovered by any observant person. If you see something unusual about a plant’s growth habit, leaf coloration, or shape, that characteristic might be able to be preserved by asexual propagation to create a new plant cultivar if the characteristic is stable through successive propagation.

> Variegated plants add color and interest to your landscape when flower displays are not in season.  Most variegated plants grow much slower than their green forms thereby reducing plant maintenance requirements.  Contrasting plant foliage colors can brighten up any garden.

> Avoid using chemicals for pest and disease control if at all possible.  Runoff of chemical fertilizers also hurts our environment.  Examples of organic methods:  Aphids and soft bodied insects can be killed with a sharp hose spray. Cooler weather weeds in St. Augustine grass can be controlled by low mowing in spring to prevent seed formation until the warm weather St. Augustine grass thickens to choke out the weeds – then raise mowing height.  Use of toxic insecticides also kills the 90 percent of the insect population that is beneficial to our gardens.    Toxic chemicals are just plain dangerous!   Disease infected plants should be dug and destroyed.  Weakened plants attract disease and insect attack.   Occasionally, a chemical means is the only solution that will work, but use only as a last resort and to save not easily replaceable plants.  REMEMBER, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN ENVIRONMENTAL SAFE PESTICIDE!  (See alternative recommendations below)

> The # 1 fertilizer to avoid is Weed and Feed as they may contains a toxic herbicide called atrazine which if used around your shrubs and trees will kill them! It should not be used on residential property at all because, he roots of trees cover the entire property of most lots. Atrazine is also poisoning our clean water sources. Furthermore, the two ingredients in these products aren’t suitable to be applied at the same time. The pre-emergent herbicide part of the products needs to be applied about 2 months earlier than the soluble fertilizer part of the products. Some of the specific products that you should avoid are Scotts Bonus S, Vigero, Sam’s just to name a few.

Organic/Non-toxic recipes for pest control:

Herbicide:  strong (10-20%) vinegar blended with orange oil (2 oz. orange oil added to one gallon vinegar – do not dilute).  Spray directly on weed.


  • 1  one cup milk per 9 cups water, spray on plant two times per week to control powdery mildew. 
  • 2. Baking Soda spray – one gallon water with 3 tbsp baking soda and 1 tsp dish soap.  Remove infected leaves and spray rest, top and bottom to control powdery mildew and other fungal diseases.


  • 1. soap spray, 1 capful (3tbsp)  of any liquid soap and 3 tbsp vegetable oil to 1 gal. water.  Mist lightly on aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites, scale or any other soft bodied insect. 
  • 2. Soft bodied insects can also be controlled with sharp hose spraying on both sides of the leaves.
  • 3. Alcohol, 1 cup to 1 qt. water) can be wiped onto leaves infested with scale or other sucking insects to rid them. 

 Plant Insect Repellant:  1 teaspoon hot pepper or tabasco sauce with 4 cloves of garlic and 1 qt water.  blend and strain.  Spray on foliage to repel insects on your plants.

 Plant Stimulant:  Plants not feeling well?  Add one aspirin to one gallon water next time you water them.  This has been scientifically proven to improve plant health!

> Recycle used nursery containers and the old potting soil they contain.  Dump the used potting soil on your outdoor beds and take used containers to local nurseries, most of whom will gladly accept used nursery containers of all sizes (1-20 gal.) for reuse. It saves them money and is is environmentally friendly – they don’t end up in a landfill as non-biodegradable waste.    .

> Plant labeling is always a problem.  Here’s a tip for long lasting plant labels.  If you have an old aluminum mini blind – don’t discard it.  Cut the blades into 4 to 8 inch strips with scissors.  Use #2 pencil, or a fine tipped acrylic paint pen available at most craft stores in colors,  and poke them in your pots or in the ground for durable, long lasting plant labeling.   These labels can be reused by erasing the pencil or paint using a mild scrubbing agent, eg. Soft Scrub.

> The best place to shop for unusual or new varieties of plants at value prices are special plant sales, either conducted by arboreta, botanical gardens, or horticultural associations, or private plant sales conducted by plant collectors who sell plants from private overgrown collections. You’ll always find something exciting that you’ll never find at the local nurseries and get expert advice about the plants you buy.  Try trading with other plant collectors or gardening enthusiasts.  Your surplus can result in the opportunity to try and grow new varieties of plants.

> The best place to get sound honest advice on plant selection or landscape designing may not be commercial sources. Try independent advice from non-commercial , knowledgeable sources like hobby plant enthusiasts and specialists who love to share and give you the benefit of their experience so you can learn to make good choices.

> Use native plants to the extent possible to avoid maintenance problems.  These plants are very adaptive to local conditions,  disease and pest resistant, and have been time tested to perform well in your area.  Native plants generally need less care, watering, no fertilizing, etc.

> Pruning tips:  Prune trees and shrubs minimally and only as necessary to remove dead or diseased wood, shape, or eliminate undesirable growth..  Pruning opens cuts and wounds that can be an avenue for disease or insect infestation.  (Elmer’s glue makes a great wound and cut sealer!)   Never prune more than one-third of a plant at a time.   Spring flowering plants bloom on old wood so prune only after their blooming period.   Plants that bloom on new wood should be pruned during winter or very early spring.    (Note: Encore varieties of azaleas bloom on new wood, whereas all other azaleas varieties are spring only bloomers)

> Plants you DON’T fertilize:  Ferns, Cacti and Succulents, and Bromeliads.  Ferns need only decayed organic matter for their nutrient needs,  Cacti and succulents can over-accumulate minerals causing toxicity, and Bromeliads will never bloom when fertilized.  Only fertilize bromeliads at half strength when encouraging new pups after blooming or to stimulate pups to faster maturity.

> Yard  Maintenance Crimes:   In maintaining your landscape, here are the top things to avoid:  (Landscape Service’s are particularly guilty)

  • Crepe murder:  Crepe Myrtles don’t need to be pruned except to promote reblooming in one season or to gently shape or remove dead wood.  Do not prune these plants back severely – (see pruning tips above)
  • Live tree and shrub burial:  Do not stack mulch or soil around a tree higher than natural ground level.   Since most of the feeder roots are within 2′ of the surface,  this causes them to grow above ground level which is detrimental to the tree.  Always keep mounded mulch 12″ away from the trunks.
  • Border all plants in open lawn areas to protect them from weed eater/lawn trimmer damage and girdling (which will kill a shrub or tree).

> Dormant Seasons:  When plants go dormant, so should gardeners.  Dormancy is not only winter but includes summer when temperatures exceed 95 degrees.  During this time, stop fertilizing, stop pruning, stop any new planting, don’t increase watering to compensate and water deeply only in mornings, and stop mowing.  The reason is simple.  While plants are in stress, you don’t want to encourage new growth or add to the stressful conditions.

> Tips for Mailing Plants:  (If you trade or sell plants that require shipment, the following tips should be useful to you)

Do not mail plants to California or Hawaii because of strictly enforced state laws prohibiting importation of plant materials into these states. Most countries restrict or prohibit importation of plants from other countries as well. Check postal regulations for further information before mailing.
Mail plants bare root if possible to minimize spread of soil born diseases. Make sure plants being mailed are healthy, free of insect or disease problems.
Package plants firmly to avoid damage from crushing enroute. Chosing the right sized and shaped box is important.
Use lightweight packing materials, e.g. newspaper,. noodles, bubble wrap, plastic grocery bags, to lighten shipping weight.but secure contents.
Mail plants by the fastest economical means available such as USPS priority mail (2-3 day delivery), or UPS ground if delivery can be guaranteed in 3 days or less. The point of shipping and destination will affect delivery times. The quicker the trip, the better condition upon arrival.
How to pack plants depends on their type: See suggestions below.
  • Cacti and Succulents: bare root, wrapped in newspaper
  • Herbaceous rooted plants non-dormant perennials and ferns: wrap roots with minimal amount of dampened sterile soil or sphagnum moss with clear wrap and tie around stem with twisty. Insert entire plant into plastic zip lock bag with dampened paper towel to maintain moisture around foliage
  • Woody rooted plants: Same method as herbaceous but not necessary to place in moistened plastic bag. After securing roots and sterile soil in clear wrap, wrap the entire plant in newspaper.
  • Bromeliads and Orchids: bare root enclosed in moistened zip lock bag.
  • Bulbs: bare root wrapped in newspaper
  • Dormant perennials: wrap roots in minimal amount of sterile soil or sphagnum moss and place in zip lock plastic bag
  • Cuttings: Soak cuttings in water until turgid, then wrap cuttings in dampened paper towels and place in zip lock bag.
  • Aquatic and bog plants: Wrap in damp to wet paper towel, insert in zip lock bag
  • Seed: Place seed in dry zip lock bag. If seed is crushable, place bubble wrap around it.

Let nature into your yard. We can’t and shouldn’t try to control every natural intruder (plant or animal). Examples include mushrooms and other fungi, (which are indicators of a healthy soil and environment), squirrels and other animals trying to survive due to our  destruction of their habitat, and spider webs we run into occasionally (spiders control insect populations).  Many critter life cycles are so short that temporary damage they cause to plants can be tolerated.  Fungi (not often pleasant to look at) decay organic materials that enrich our soils. Nature benefits us in most cases and we need to be less “sterile” in maintaining our yards and more accepting of the diversity in our natural environment.  Many insects and creatures provide natural pest control precluding our desire or need to use potentially harmful chemicals for such purposes.

Horticultural Trivia
Horticultural Trivia

In England, the Dandelion has been declared an endangered wildflower!

Also in England, garden thievery has grown to such extraordinary proportions that Scotland Yard has officers specialized in plant theft!

A watermelon is botanically classified (by fruit type) as a berry!

When you eat a fig, you are eating a flower, not a fruit!

Pineapples are bromeliads, so is Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) seen hanging from trees throughout the south – strange relatives!

Vanilla comes from a vining orchid (Vanilla planifolia).

The edible ginger is zerumbet officinalis.  All other “gingers” are not edible.

The oldest existing living plants in the world include a stunted white fir in Sweden over 9,550 yrs old, a Bristlecone pine in Utah over 4,880 years old,.  The stoutest living trees are a Montezuma Cypress in Oxaca Mexico at 38.1 ft diameter and a giant Sequoia in CA at 29 ft diameter.  Living fossil plants you can grow today include cycads, dawn redwood, tree ferns, Gingko biloba, horsetails, club mosses,  to name a few.  These go back to when dinosaurs roamed.

Here’s something you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask!!  What does pH stand for? The “p” (always written in lower case) is a chemical mathematics symbol for “the negative logrithm of”.  The “H” is the chemical symbol for hydrogen.  So “pH” is the negative logrithm of the concentration of hydrogen ions in a soil or water solution.  Now – do you wish you never asked!!

Did you know plants are becoming extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than at any other time in history!!  In our lifetimes,  we may lose 10% of all known plant species.

Did you know that the spines on a cactus are really modified leaves.

There are ferns that grow only in the desert or desert like dry environments?

The plant with the largest leaves & largest seed is a palm – The Coco de mer (Lodoicea maldivica) in the Seychelles.  The leaves are 30+ft long, up to 15 ft wide and the seed weights up to 45 lbs and takes 6 years to germinate.

The oldest fossil record of a flowering plant is Archaefructus liaonigensis, dated to 140 million years ago during the Cretaceous period.  The closest living relatives to the earliest flowering plants include the Dutchman’s Pipe and Root Beer plant.   Dragon flies, the oldest known insects still living today were instrumental in early flower  development by pollination.

Welwitschia mirabilis is the wierdest and most most extremely adaptable plant in the world.  It is so strange, it just can’t be adequately described!

The most recent botanical find of an ancient plant long thought to be extinct is the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) found in a remote.. canyon 65 miles from Sydney Australia 

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