Mark your calendars now for our January sale:
|The mission of the Montgomery County Master Gardener Association is to educate the community through fellowship and demonstration using research-based gardening information.|
Flower of the Month
The Christmas Cactus
By Alice Stone Thomas, Master Gardener
The Christmas Cactus is a beautiful green plant that produces flowers of various colors in the darkest time of the year.
The Christmas (or Holiday) Cactus (Schlumbergera or Zygocactus) is a tropical cactus, not a desert cactus, which means its tropical nature can confuse growers into offering too much heat and light, without enough water. It is native to South America and grows in the mountains of Brazil.
An epiphyte, it grows in trees with its roots growing into the bark of its host tree. Its only access to moisture and nutrients is from rain and droppings that fall from above (Peter Bowden https://blog.timesunion.com).
It generally blooms from mid-November to January. The buds are set in the fall when the plant is exposed to cooler temperatures at night, between 50-60° F. If temperatures are kept steady near the 68°F mark, flowering can continue for eight weeks or more. A variety of colors include white, yellow, orange to red, pink, and magenta.
Follow these steps to keep the holiday cactus healthy and happy:
- If keeping it inside, give it bright but indirect light, preferably an east or north window. When moving it outdoors for summer, put it in a shady spot.
- Give it humidity by placing the pot on a waterproof saucer that is filled with gravel and halfway filled with water.
- When the plant is 2-3 weeks old, add a blooming houseplant-type fertilizer to assist plant growth. Follow the label directions for how much and how often to feed.
- Water with care. Before watering, check to see that the top inch of soil has dried thoroughly, then water thoroughly. Mist leaves as well as watering the soil. During the fall and winter months, the plants should be watered less frequently in order to promote blooming.
The Christmas Cactus continues to give pleasure and challenges to gardeners everywhere.
Critter of the Month
The Great-Tailed Grackle
By Cliff Blackerby, Master Gardener
You know about a murder of crows or a flock of pigeons, even a flight of geese, but what do you call the grackle? Many refer to them as a plague or a pain in the derriere. They are loud, aggressive and they are everywhere.
In the fall in rural areas they congregate by the thousands and put on some of the most interesting mass aerial shows you’ve ever seen. I’ve often seen cars pull off the highway just to watch the patterns and shapes thousands of birds flying and changing direction in the air make. I’ll admit, I have, too. In the urban areas they take over open spaces and parking lots, roosting in trees, calling all night and creating problems if your car is parked under their roosts.
The grackle we are most familiar with is the Great-Tailed Grackle, often misidentified as a blackbird. Male grackles are easily identified by their iridescent black and purple hue and a tail they can fold by aligning the two halves.
The females are a dull brown with wings and tail darker than their undersides. Both male and female adults have bright yellow eyes.
Grackles are opportunistic foragers and in urban areas can often be seen in parking lots looking for scraps of food dropped by shoppers. They’ve even been observed taking dead bugs off the license plates and front grills of cars.
Grackles are intelligent birds capable of solving problems. They have been known to solve Aesop’s Fable test consisting of a container partially filled with water with a food item floating out of reach within the container. The solution to the test is to drop objects in the water until the water level rises enough for the bird to reach the floating object.
Grackles participate in an unusual bird behavior called “anting”. They have been observed on the ground spreading their wings and allowing ants to crawl over their feathers. It’s unknown why they exhibit this behavior; maybe it’s molting behavior.
So, this is your introduction to the Great-Tailed Grackle, the December Critter of the Month.
Photos courtesy of Blogspot.com and Pinterest
Step Into Our Gardens….
By Pat Sheridan, Master Gardener
A garden organized around a unifying theme is a theme garden. Ideas for theme gardens are limitless. There are Japanese gardens, butterfly gardens, rose gardens, and vegetable gardens, to name just a few. Here at the AgriLife Extension, we have several examples of theme gardens: the children’s discovery garden, the square foot garden, the fairy garden, and the culinary herb garden, and more.
Checkout the Shakespeare Garden…
Within the Herb Area lies the Shakespeare Garden:
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows…” A Midsummer Night’s Dream
“Rosemary, that’s for remembrance…” Ophelia
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose…” Romeo and Juliet
Did you know that herbs and other plants were frequently mentioned in the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare? It seems that he was very knowledgeable of the characteristics and uses of many plants. In his day (the 1600s), plants had symbolic significance. Every mention is thought to be important to the story. His writings speak about more than 30 different herbs and flowers and the settings were sometimes in gardens.
Our Shakespeare garden features bronze fennel, creeping thyme, chamomile, yarrow, rosemary, bay laurel, tansy, rue, the red rose, but plants may vary with the season and weather conditions. We even have a bust of old Will himself to watch over the plants in his garden.
Some well- known public gardens in America that contain areas dedicated to Shakespeare are located in Central Park in New York City, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and on the Folger Shakespeare Library grounds, Washington, D.C. Closer to home, Festival Hill and Mercer Botanical Gardens are worth a visit.