Sunday, July 31, 2011

Callistemon Tree

Family: Myrtaceae
Genus: Callistemon

10-12 ft. (3-3.6 m)
6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)
Sun Exposure:
Full Sun
Bloom Color:
Bloom Time:
Late Winter/Early Spring
Mid Spring
Late Spring/Early Summer
Grown for foliage
Other details:
Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)
Patent Information:
Propagation Methods:
From semi-hardwood cuttings
From seed; direct sow after last frost
Seed Collecting:
Unblemished fruit must be significantly overripe before harvesting seed; clean and dry seeds

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Your Weedy Lawn Is A Good Thing

The next time your neighbor with the emerald green lawn casts a look down their nose at your less than perfect lawn, don’t feel bad. The fact of the matter is that your weedy lawn is doing more for your garden, the environment and your wallet that the supposedly “perfect” lawn your neighbor maintains.
One of the major benefits of having a weedy lawn is that many weeds in your lawn attract butterflies and caterpillars. Common lawn weeds, such as plantain, dandelion and clover are sources of food for the Buckeye butterfly, Baltimore butterfly, Eastern tailed blue butterfly and a great many others. Allowing some of these common weeds to grow in your garden, encourages butterflies to lay their eggs in your yard which will result in more butterflies in your garden later on.
Weeds also help to attract other beneficial bugs to your garden as well. Many good bugs, like predatory wasps, preying mantis, ladybugs and bees find food and shelter in the weeds in our yards. These “good” bugs will help to keep the “bad” bug population down in your garden as well as providing pollination to your plants. The more weeds you have in you’re the less money and time you will have to spend on battling back the bugs that can hurt your plants.
Many weeds are also blessed with a natural insect repellant. Letting weeds in your lawn grow near your more weed free flower beds can help drive out even more “bad” bugs from your plants.
Weeds can also help keep down erosion of top soil on your property. If you live in an area that is prone to drought or live in an area that is unfortunate enough to experience a drought, the weeds in your lawn may very well be the only plants in your lawn that survive. Long after your grass has died from the heat and lack of water, those weeds will still be there, holding down the precious topsoil that will be vital when the rain returns and you can replant the grass.
Beyond that, many of the chemicals we use to keep our lawns “healthy” and green are actually carcinogenic and very bad for the environment. Run-off from chemically treated lawns finds its way into sewer systems and then into water ways, causing pollution and killing many aquatic animals. Even before these chemicals make it to the water, they may cause harm to your local wildlife. While you may be able to keep your kids and pets off a chemically treated lawn, a wild animal or a neighbor’s pet can not read the sign that says your lawn has been chemically treated.
So instead of cringing at the glares you get from your neighbors with over treated lawns when your lawn becomes polka-dotted with dandelions, smile politely and inform them that you are growing an environmentally-friendly, baby butterfly nursery.


It's important to learn how to take care of summer plants in the winter, because most so-called summer plants cannot withstand freezing winter temperatures. Whether your summer plant is a tropical plant or a tender herb you'd like to keep alive throughout the winter months, learn the steps to taking care of plants through the wintertime.
How to Take Care of Summer Plants in the Winter

When people talk about summer plants, what do they mean? Identify your plant below and learn the specifics of how to take care of summer plants in the winter.
Annual Flowers

Annual summer flowers such as impatiens and begonias hail from warm, tropical climates. Most cannot withstand temperatures consistently dipping below 50 or 60 degrees. You'll see frost damage on the flowers first, followed by dying leaves.

You can try to maintain them throughout the winter months by placing a cold frame around the garden bed. A cold frame consists of side panels and an angled clear plastic or glass top that lets light inside the frame. The interior becomes a warm micro climate you can adjust to let in air or moisture as needed.

Many annual summer flowers aren't worth trying to winter over for next season. Most gardeners simply allow annuals to die, collecting seeds if possible for next year. You can also dig them up, place them in flower pots, and bring them indoors. Be sure to keep them on a bright southern or eastern-facing window and use supplemental artificial plant lights if necessary to keep them healthy. Even with the best care, many summer flowering annuals just don't like to be indoors, but you can easily replace them next year.
The perennial family of flowers is huge, with thousands of different plants. Nature intends perennials to return year after year, growing from the same root stock as the previous year. To ensure the roots remain healthy through the cold winter months, apply a thick layer of natural mulch such as wood chips or bark around the plant. Cut back any dead branches or flowers and discard them. Dead leaves, branches and flowers can harbor insects or microbes that can attack the plant next spring.
Perennial Flowers
Tree Roses

Tree roses are summer plants that need special care. Wrap the trunks in special paper, available at garden centers, and use burlap to wrap the crown portion. Dormant plants kept in large pots or tubs can be moved into garages or other shelters if necessary.
Tropical Plants and Houseplants

Both tropical plants and houseplants must be moved indoors in the fall before the cold weather strikes your area. Neither can spend the winter outdoors. Be sure to spray the plant with a stream of water before moving it indoors to remove any insects, and inspect the pot carefully for insect larvae and other hitchhikers before moving the plant inside. The warmth indoors may encourage your unwanted guests to hatch and settle into your home for the winter, too.
Other Winter Plant Care Tips

During the winter months, you do not need to water your outdoor plants. Let nature take care of the watering. When plants are dormant in the winter, their water needs are considerably less than during the active periods of growth and reproduction during the summer months.

Take special care of strawberry plants, whose crowns freeze below 20 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Layer straw mulch on strawberry plants after the first cool weather occurs.

Tender herbs require a cloche or covering over them to protect them from frost. Rosemary benefits from a cloche and can be wintered over in the garden with some covering. Oregano, mint, and similar herbs may go dormant but usually do not require much winter protection. Basil should be treated like an annual plant and either moved indoors or allowed to die naturally; you can easily replace it in the spring.

Nature gave plants the ability to withstand the natural seasonal weather in the plant's original habitat. Any non-native summer plants such as many annual flowers, tender perennials, houseplants and tropical plants require special care, so take steps now to ensure health plants year-round.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hibiscus Rosa-sinensis

Common Names: Chinese hibiscus, rose-of-China, Hawaiian hibiscus
Family: Malvaceae (mallow Family)

Chinese hibiscus is a large shrub or small tree that gets up to 15 ft (4.5 m) tall in frost free climates. The toothed leaves are arranged alternately and are quite variable, but tend to be large, dark green, and shiny. Chinese hibiscus has a coarse texture and normally grows upright and broad spreading. It usually grows as a bush with many stems. Flowers are glorious and huge at their best -- up to 6 in (15 cm) in diameter -- and occur in many colors. Most are flared and have a bell shape; they may be single or double, smooth or scalloped. The flowers have a long central tube with stamens and pistils at the tip. Hundreds of selections are available, with flower colors from scarlet to orange to yellow to white.

The experts aren't sure, but Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is thought to have originated in tropical Asia.

Deep, moderately fertile, well drained, and slightly acidic soil is ideal for Chinese hibiscus. Regular pruning is necessary in most cases to shape and control the size of the bush, and to remove unwanted stems.
Light: Hibiscus likes full sun or partial shade from very high trees.
Moisture: A fairly moist soil is best.
Propagation: Propagate the cultivars of Chinese hibiscus from fast growing tip cuttings.

Use Chinese hibiscus as a foundation plant around houses and buildings in frost free areas. It makes a spectacular specimen shrub. Put a pair on either side of the driveway. The Chinese hibiscus is underused as a standard or tree form. For a spectacular flowering tree, removes the lower branches and allow to grow as it will! In colder areas, the hibiscus makes a wonderful summer plant that can be grown as an annual or containerized and greenhoused in wintertime.

Chinese hibiscus produces large, extremely showy flowers almost all year! This writer's grandfather specialized in grafting various colors of hibiscus onto the same shrub. Traffic would stop to check out the red, white and blue flowers all on the same bush in the front yard. Anyone interested in attracting hummingbirds should have a hibiscus. Many types of butterflies are attracted as well, including Cloudless Sulfurs, blues, and Gulf Fritillaries.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Peltophorum pterocarpum

Common Names: yellow poinciana, yellow flame tree, copper-pod, yellow flamboyant tree
Family: Fabaceae/Leguminosae (bean Family)

Yellow poinciana is a very showy flowering tree up to 50' tall, with wide-spreading branches that form an umbrella-like crown up to 25' across. The stems and twigs are rusty-red tomentose (fuzzy). The leaves are bipinnate (twice compound), about 2' long with 8-20 pairs of 3/4"-long oblong leaflets. The fragrant flowers are clustered on upright stalks (racemes, actually) about 18" long. Each flower is about an inch and a half across with translucent yellow, strangely-crinkled petals. The flowers have conspicuous orange stamens and each petal has a reddish brown mark in the center. They are followed by purplish brown, flattened, oblong seed pods, 3-4" long, which remain on the tree until the next flowering season.

Yellow poinciana is native to coastal areas from Sri Lanka through the Malay archipelago and Indonesia to northern Australia. It has escaped from cultivation and established itself in disturbed areas in southern Florida and Hawaii.

Light: Does well in semi-shade, but can tolerate full sun if well-watered.
Moisture: Needs moist, but well-drained soil.
Propagation: Propagation of yellow poinciana is by seeds that must be treated before they will germinate. In nature, the seeds would have passed through the gut of a bird or mammal before germinating in a pile of rich "compost." We simulate that process with scarification (use a file or sandpaper), or a two-minute immersion in dilute acid or boiling water.

Yellow poincianas are usually planted as specimen trees or as shade trees. They are used as street trees in tropical cities, and commonly planted for shade in tropical and subtropical gardens. They are fast-growing and vigorous, but they cannot tolerate frost.

The name poinciana also is used for three other showy subtropical trees or shrubs in the bean family: Royal poinciana (Delonix regia), also called flame tree or flamboyant tree; dwarf poinciana (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), also called Barbados pride or peacock flower; and another dwarf poinciana (C. gilliesii), also called bird-of-paradise bush.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Indoor Plant Lighting



There are a number of different approaches used for growing plants under lights. To make an informed decision as to what type of lighting should be employed, the fundamentals of light, colour and lighting systems should be understood. In this article we will examine the how light is qualitatively appraised with respect to color and intensity. Different lighting systems will be examined, and most available types of lights will be discussed. Examples of some "real world" lighting systems will be given and analyzed with respect to effectiveness, initial cost, operating expense and longevity.


What is light

Visible light is that part of the electro-magnetic spectrum that lies between the wavelengths of ultraviolet and infrared. That's probably more that you need to know for the purposes of home growing.

White light is all colors

When we see a rainbow, we are seeing white light split up into it's component colours, hence the expression "all the colours of the rainbow". Plants, in general, absorb red and blue light and reflect green light. Our eyes are most sensitive to the color green.

Sunlight is different in different places in the world

Sunlight contains, more or less, equal portions of all colours of sunlight. Northern sunlight, that is, sunlight in areas north of the fortieth parallel, has more blue than equatorial sunlight because of absorption of all other colours, or wavelengths of light, by the atmosphere.
This is the same effect that causes underwater photos taken below three feet to be so blue. Just as the atmosphere absorbs non-blue light so does water, except water absorbs non-blue light at a much greater rate. Almost all non-blue light below three feet of water is absorbed.

How is light measured?

Light quality is expressed and measured in many ways. Light colour can be measured in degrees Kelvin (K) and the colour rendering index of a light source can be measured and expressed as CRI. (0 degrees Celsius = 273 degrees Kelvin; 0 degrees Kelvin = absolute zero)

Colour temperature - degrees Kelvin

White light can have different "warmths". A bit more red/yellow makes white light appear "warmer". A bit more blue and light appears "cool". This can be quantitatively assessed by the assigning of a colour temperature, given in degrees Kelvin. Think of colour temperature as the colour of a block of iron as it is heated to various high temperatures. A warm, reddish light is around 3500 degrees Kelvin, and above 6000 degrees Kelvin the light takes on a bluish tone. Sunlight is somewhere around 5000 degrees Kelvin.

Colour rendering index (CRI)

The colour rendering index identifies the degree of colour shift objects undergo when illuminated by a particular light source compared to a standard source. In simpler terms, the CRI expresses the degree to which a light source renders the true colour impression. The CRI is an index and ranges from 0 to 100. A light source having a CRI of 100 means objects illuminated by it look like they're supposed to; that is their natural color is not distorted. A light source having a very low CRI would tend to make objects appear to be a different shade or even colour that they really are. An example of light with a high CRI is, obviously, sunlight. Some fluorescent tubes such as Daylight, Chroma 65 or Vita-Lite have a very high CRI. Some light sources such as Gro-Lux or sodium vapour lamps have very low CRI's.
The color rendering is important when examining flowers under different light. Because cool white (blue) fluorescent lights lack red, red flowers look dull, almost grayish. Sodium or mercury lights are even worse for distorting color.

Light Meters

A light meter may be used to measure the amount of light, measured in foot-candles, emitted by a light source, measured at some distance from the source. Growing information for a plant will give an indication of the amount of light the plant requires, usually stated in foot candles at the surface of the leaf.
Light meters for use in photography are designed to be sensitive to the same wavelengths as the human eye. That is not what a plant sees! To measure correctly what a plant sees, you must use a meter that provides a measure of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), the wavelengths of light most important for plant health. These wavelengths, between 400 and 700 nanometers, are critical for the photosynthesis and chlorophyll production that drive plant growth. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.)


Good light, free, but hard to control

This is of course what plants are used to and it can hardly be argued that this is anything less than the most natural. However coaxing enough sunlight onto your plants throughout the whole year from the top rather than from the side as through a window can be problematical.
Sunlight is the certainly the cheapest way to illuminate your plants, although it is unreliable and very difficult to regulate. This is subject to geographical variation, of course. If you live in California and have a skylight over a plant stand, you might be getting enough light. If however you live in an area that does not get a lot of sunlight or your plants are stacked in rows in a basement, you will obviously need supplemental lighting.


Cheap, low quality light

Incandescent lights are the ubiquitous screw-in bulbs you most likely have lighting your home. An incandescent bulb consists of a glass bulb with a tungsten filament in a near vacuum; just a small amount of argon or krypton is present. When current flows through the filament, it heats up and glows giving off both heat and light.

Halogen bulbs

A variation of the incandescent bulb is the halogen bulb. This is an improvement to incandescent bulbs invented by GE in 1958 for the wing tip navigation lights of the Boeing 707. In a regular incandescent bulb, the tungsten filament evaporates, and over time the inside of the bulb is coated with a fine coat of tungsten from condensed tungsten vapour. This coating will severely limit the light output of the bulb. In a halogen bulb, a small amount of one of the halogens (Iodine or Bromine are used) is present and combines with the evaporated tungsten. This Tungsten Iodide or Tungsten Bromide molecule has an affinity for the tungsten filament and returns there and splits. The tungsten from this molecule returns to the filament while the halogen returns to the atmosphere inside the bulb. This process does not work unless the bulb jacket is at least 200 degrees Celsius. This is why halogen lamps are so hot and must be taken into consideration. Halogen lamps are 25-30% brighter than regular incandescent bulbs. The halogen cycle, as it is called, takes place in a very small capsule, as it is easier to maintain the high temperature required for the halogen cycle to operate in a smaller space. This capsule is placed inside another glass capsule which serves as the bulb's outer casing and although it is still plenty hot, it is not as hot as 200 degrees Celsius.

Output spectrum is biased towards the red

The output spectrum of incandescent light, halogen or regular, is biased heavily toward the red. Non-halogen bulbs have a colour temperature of 2700K, while halogen bulbs have a colour temperature of 3000K - they are a slightly more whitish light. Both have a CRI of 100. A diagram of the spectrum looks rather like a triangle, starting with almost no output in the green and rising at an almost linear rate to the far red and infra-red. Although incandescent bulbs are very inefficient, they are a very good source of near and far red light which is certainly very important. They are sometimes used as supplements in systems which are deficient in the red end of the spectrum.


The great disadvantage to incandescent lights is their inefficiency - you don't get a lot of light compared with how much energy you put apply. One saving grace in this respect is that the efficiency increases proportionally to the wattage, for example a single 100 watt bulb is much brighter than two 50 watt bulbs. The energy that does not get converted to light is wasted by being given off as heat. All but the smallest wattage bulbs can generate an awful lot of heat, and this must be taken into consideration. Another point to consider is, because the heat is so great, a splash of water on a hot bulb can shatter it.
Halogen bulbs are more efficient than "regular" incandescent bulbs by virtue of remaining brighter longer; they still give off 95% of their initial light output at the end of their lives, which are about twice as long as regular incandescent bulbs. They are also more expensive.
The great advantage of non-halogen bulbs is of course their extreme low cost for initial purchase, and of course their great availability; you can buy them anywhere. Halogen bulbs are on the average 5 to 10 times as expensive as their non-halogen counterparts and can usually be found at larger hardware stores. Since their primary market is yuppie track lighting they are usually found as spot or flood lights. Of potential interest to grower is the low voltage bulbs used in some track lighting systems. Operating as 12V, these bulbs are quite small and would be good to use a supplemental light augmenting a fluorescent setup. They are also the cheapest of halogen bulbs. While I have seen them at $30 each in fancy designer light stores, I have also seen them in Price Club at 3 for $12. Sylvania makes a series of bulbs called Capsylite that come in "regular" bulb shapes plus the large parabolic reflectors sometimes used to illuminate the outside of houses. Osram makes a large array of different shapes and sizes, most of which look like the vacuum tubes. They are probably the most useful to growers because of their smaller size and wide range of wattages; from low power bulbs all the way up to 150 watts. They are however not cheap and can be quite a challenge to find somewhere that stocks them.


Incandescent bulbs have a lifespan of about 1000 hours. Halogen bulbs have a life of about 2000 hours. One interesting personal note here; although regular incandescent lights are rated at 1000 hours, we've all had some bulbs that seem to burn on forever. The Guinness book of world records lists the longest lasting light bulb as being an incandescent bulb in a firehouse in, I believe Boston that is some 70+ years old; it is never turned off, which is a key point. This is why your parents always gave you hell for flicking the lights on and off really quickly, the wear on the filament from having current suddenly shot through it is quite great. If you'll notice, most bulbs fail when turned on, not in the middle of operation, or when they are turned off. The halogen bulbs I have throughout my home seem to be on a timer; when 2000 hours is up *poof*, they expire. I curse them out, do a rough calculation and come to the conclusion that their 2000 hours just expired.


This is a bunch of data on the commonly available fluorescent tubes from GE, Sylvania and Philips.

Cheaper To Run, More Expensive To Install

Fluorescent lights are very common in our day to day lives. They are cheap to operate as they emit about four times as much light per unit of electricity as incandescent lights do. On the other hand they are more complicated to install because they require a ballast to operate. You may be familiar with the regular "cool white" and "warm white" tubes sold in hardware stores but what you may not know is that fluorescent tubes come in hundreds of shapes, sizes and spectral output.

How They Work

Fluorescent lights work by placing an anode and a cathode at opposite ends of a glass tube. Inside the tube is a partial vacuum and a small amount of mercury vapour. When energized, the mercury vapour is ionized and emits ultraviolet radiation. The inside of the tube is coated with a phosphor - a powder that "fluoresces" (gives off light) when stimulated by ultraviolet radiation, thus producing visible light. The chemical composition of the phosphor determines the spectrum or colour of the emitted light. (Fluoresce has nothing to do with flour.)

Replace Tubes Every Six Months

Although fluorescent lights are very energy efficient, there is a particularly nasty phenomenon known as "cathode decay" that causes, over time, less energy to be transferred through the mercury vapour. The net effect is that the tube will emit less and less light as it gets older. To all appearances, the tube will put out the same amount of light until it suddenly stops dead one day, (which can take years), but for all practical purposes, because the drop off in light output is an exponential decay, the tube should optimally be replaced every six months or at the very least once a year. Writing the installation date on the tube itself with a permanent magic marker can be a big help here.

Types Of Fluorescent Tubes

There are many different types of fluorescent tubes. They differ in the physical size, composition of the phosphor and the wattage. When fluorescent tube is mentioned, the standard T12 four foot tubes usually comes to mind. This tube has a diameter of 1.5 inches and is available in 18", 24" 36", 48", 72" and 96" lengths. T12 tubes are available in HO (High Output) or VHO (Very High Output) which draw more and much more current respectively, but produce more light than regular T12 tubes. T12 tubes are also available in U-shaped, that is a four foot tube is bent back on itself so it forms a large U, and is about 24" long. The T8 or "slimline" fluorescent has a 1" diameter tube and is available in 24", 36" and 48" lengths. Circular tubes are available with several different radii, and in several different types. In the last few years, compact fluorescent tubes have become very popular mostly as replacements for incandescent bulbs. These tubes come in all sizes, from a 3" 5 watt bulb to much larger bulbs that replace 40W four foot tubes, yet are just one third of the size.
The phosphor chemistry is what makes the difference between a cool white and a daylight tube and every tube is available with a dizzying array of choices in this area. As the composition of the phosphor changes so does the spectrum of the visible light being emitted by the tube.
For illumination for plant growth only a small percentage of the dozens of available tubes are appropriate. They fall into the following broad categories: industrial, full spectrum, daylight, plant growth, actinic, tri-phosphor, special purpose and HO/VHO.

Use Four Foot Tubes

Although fluorescent tubes come in many sizes, volume of scale dictates that there is really only one size - the T12 four foot length. Some ninety percent of all fluorescent tubes made are this size, and because of this volume this is the cheapest size, although this needs to be qualified. If you are buying tubes through normal retail channels, the markup is generally high enough that they can play with prices and a 24 inch tube costs less than a 48 inch tube but more than an 18 inch tube. If however you are buying tubes through other channels, such as lighting distributors, you may find that the four foot tube is cheaper than any other size. T12 tubes that are smaller or larger will cost you more. Additionally, the four foot size has the longest lifespan and also the highest ratio of lumens (light output) per watt. Thus, where space allows, use four foot tubes. If there is not enough space for these, individual compact fluorescents may be called for.


In North America the "Big Three" in fluorescent tube manufacturing are General Electric (GE), Sylvania and Philips. They all make, almost without exception, the same tubes, under different trade names although there are some notable exceptions. Smaller and off-shore manufacturers include Duro-test in the US and Osram who make some tubes in North America and some in Europe.

Industrial Tubes

These tubes include the ubiquitous "cool white" and "warm white" usually used in home and industrial lighting applications. These tubes are tuned to produce the brightest possible illumination for the least amount of electricity. Since the human eye is most sensitive to green, these tubes peak in the green portion of the visible spectrum. In fact they rise and fall quite sharply either side of the green peak. Warm white is shifted a bit toward the red end of the spectrum thus accounting for the "warmer" appearance.
If all you want to do is illuminate your plants these tubes are fine. These tubes are cheap, and they don't look terrible. Recent evidence suggests that although plants require mostly red and blue light, ANY light, in high concentration must be applied for the plants to open their stomata thus permitting respiration. This goes a long way toward explaining why some people are able to grow beautiful plants with just cool white and warm white tubes. Enough light, of any type will grow plants. These tubes are far from optimal however and they really are almost completely devoid of the necessary red and blue portion of the spectrum. If you can grow decent plants under these lights, you will do even better under more appropriate lights. These tubes are available anywhere fluorescent tubes are sold and are the cheapest tubes available.


Daylight tubes are the next big improvement in more natural light (that is a more closer approximation of sunlight) as a result of an improved phosphor formulation. Although daylight tubes output a spectrum that although does not fully emulate sunlight, it is significantly better than earlier cool white and warm white tubes. These tubes are occasionally available at hardware and department stores. They are not uncommon and any lighting supplier should have them or be able to order them. They cost a bit more than cool white, but are not expensive. Figure about $3 to $4.

Plant Growth Lights

Epitomized by the Sylvania Gro-Lux® tube, plant growth lights are, unlike all other fluorescent tubes, meant solely for promoting plant growth; you won't find these illuminating somebody's home or office - with one exception. Where I work, a receptionist thought it would be nice to have pink lighting in the lobby and ordered and had installed some plant growth tubes. You do get used to it, but they are most disconcerting when initially encountered.
GE's version of this tube is called "Gro-N-Sho". Gro-Lux type tubes have an output spectrum with two large spikes, one in the blue, and one in the red portion of the spectrum. There is almost no light emitted in any other portion of the spectrum and as such, they cast an eerie purplish glow and do not appear very bright. The spikes in the red and blue occur quite abruptly and are quite steep. This spectrum was chosen as it matched the absorption of visible light by chlorophyll in a test tube. In the 50's a study was conducted on various lighting types and phosphor formulations on plant growth, the results of which were published in the book "Lighting for Optimal Plant Growth" (Kent State Press) The phosphor formulation of Gro-Lux type tubes was improved upon. Instead of two steep abrupt spikes in the red and blue, there are two slow rising large "bumps"; the peaks in the red and blue were not as high, nor did they rise as sharply. Instead of concentrating all the energy in these two narrow energy bands, the output was tuned to produce wider bands still centered around red and blue. It became commercially available from Sylvania as Gro-Lux Wide Spectrum; GE named theirs Gro-N-Sho Wide Spectrum. These are more pinkish than purple and are indeed what is in the lobby of the building where I work.
Incidentally, you could never get away with regular Gro-Lux (as opposed to Gro-Lux wide spectrum) tubes in a lobby; they look dark, don't illuminate well and are a very deep purple. The Wide spectrum plant lights are brighter and don't look like a 60's psychedelic poster shop when used to illuminate a room like a regular Gro-Lux would.
Philips makes a plant light they named "Agro-Lite", which is a minor variant of the wide spectrum Gro-Lux. They commissioned a study at a major American university comparing their Agro-Lite to wide spectrum plant lights. The Philips tube resulted in 2 - 10% greater growth in a variety of terrestrial food crops when compared to other wide spectrum plant lights.
Since these tubes are quite commonly used for houseplants they are reasonably common in hardware stores or nurseries, although what typically happens is a store will only sell one vendor's fluorescent tubes. Even worse, they don't recognize the difference between plant lights and wide spectrum plant lights with the result being you will usually find plant lights or wide spectrum plant lights from one manufacturer in a store. Wide spectrum tubes are reasonably inexpensive, although regular Gro-Lux type tubes tend to be a bit more expensive still - the chemical that makes up the phosphor which produces red is the expensive part. In a pet shop these can be between $10 and $20. From a lighting supplier a Gro-Lux tube is about $9 while a wide spectrum tube is about $7.

Full Spectrum

Full spectrum tubes imitate natural sunlight as closely as possible by emitting light in every spectral range. All the different colours of visible light and a very small amount of ultraviolet is emitted. The Duro-Test Company produces "Vita-Lite" tubes. GE produces "Chroma 50", Philips produces "Colortone 50", Sylvania produces "Designer 5000K". All these tubes have an output spectrum that is similar to sunlight - about as close as modern chemistry can bring us. These tubes try to imitate equatorial sunlight at noon, which has a colour temperature of around 5000K.
Noon-day sunlight from northern climes has a larger amount of blue in the spectrum, having a colour temperature of 7500 Kelvin. Since the red pigment in plants is limited by blue light, these are sometimes useful. Duro-Test sells a "Vita Lite 75", GE sells a "Chroma 75" and Philips sells a "Colortone 75".
There is quite a disparity in availability and price of these tubes. The Vita Lites have very good distribution. They can be found in most aquarium stores (and many pet stores as they are also used for illuminating lizards who need the Vitamin D from the ultraviolet light). The downside of this is like anything you buy in a pet store that you can buy in a hardware store, the price can be quite high when buying them from a pet store: $15 - 20+. The same Vita-Lite tube from a lighting supplier is about $7, and the Chroma 75 I have obtained for less than $5. They are nearly identical.


Philips makes the most popular range of T12 tri-phosphor tubes, the "Ultralume" series. Recognizing that the primary light colours are red, green and blue, Philips made a tube that fluoresces very sharply only in these three narrow wavelengths. The light emitted appears white, and very bright. They are used primarily in clothing stores because they completely lack emitted ultra-violet, which bleaches clothes. Ultralumes come in colour temperatures of 3000, 3500, 4000, 4500, and 5000 which is accomplished by varying the amounts of red, green and blue phosphors. Since red is the most difficult colour light to obtain from fluorescent tubes and the Ultralume 35 has the most red, this is probably the most interesting tube from our perspective. Ultralumes are in the $7 range and can be found at better pet/aquarium stores. Philips tubes seem to be difficult to find in some areas, notably the West coast although I have occasionally seen Ultralumes on sale in department stores there. Again, a lighting supplier can usually get any of these tubes.


These tubes emit light only from the blue end of the spectrum and are used in marine setups to supply the blue that is missing from normal aquarium lighting but is required by marine algae, anemones and corals. They are usually only available from specialty aquarium stores and are not cheap. They have little or no application for growing plants.

Reflector and Aperture

Of the large manufacturers of fluorescent tubes, only Sylvania makes reflector and aperture tubes. Many of the new aquarium specific tubes have reflectors, but have little data to back up their assertion that the reflector is worth the extra cost. Sylvania however, has a data sheet on their reflector and aperture tubes.
Quoting from the "Sylvania Engineering Bulletin O-338"
"Aperture and reflector fluorescent lamps differ from standard fluorescent lamps in that they allow a certain amount of control over the direction in which the light is being sent. As sketched in Figure 1, a reflective coating is placed between the outer glass and the phosphor coating. This reflective coating provides the direction control by reflecting most of the incident light and directing it through the uncoated surface or clear window of the aperture lamp.
The total light output of reflector lamps is actually less than that of standard lamps. These lamps are intended for applications which can best utilize their special light distribution. The light is often too bright for direct illumination, but when used with reflectors it can be a very effective means of controlling the light."
Reflector tubes have a reflective coating covering 235 (or 135) degrees of the interior. Over that they have a phosphor covering the entire inside of the bulb. They are available in a number of sizes in Cool White, while one is available in Gro-Lux in a R/GRO/VHO 215 Watt 96" lamp.
Aperture lamps have a 330 or 300 degree reflective coating. They have a phosphor coating covering 330 or 300 degrees of the lamp. There is a 30 or 60 degree clear glass opening or "aperture".
The aperture lamp has a lower light output that standard fluorescent lamps, because some of the phosphor, which converts ultra violet to visible light, has been removed. But when these lamps are used with reflectors or lenses, they provide a very concentrated beam closely projected in one direction. This allows more light to be delivered to a small area.
"Applications of the lamp are bridge lighting from the rails, aircraft landing strips, highways and approach ramps, billboards and sign lighting, sport areas and marina lighting."
The aperture lamps are only available in 3 models: 4 foot 30 degree aperture cool white, 4 foot 60 degree cool white, and 8 foot HO 30 degree cool white.


HO refers to High Output, and VHO is Very High Output. These tubes output more (and a lot more) light by drawing more (and a lot more) current. They are more expensive tubes to buy, require larger more expensive ballasts and don't last as long. The conventional wisdom about these tubes is that if you need a lot of light then it's okay to use an HO, but the VHO's are more bother than they're worth. Neither last as long as regular tubes. A ballast for an 8 foot VHO tube is an enormous black box that draws a lot of current, and gets very hot. Even the tubes themselves get hot. If you need this much light you should probably be thinking about HID lamps. HO and VHO tubes come in many sizes and types, such as cool white, warm white, daylight, Gro-Lux and Gro-Lux wide spectrum


Standard T12 four foot fluorescent tubes have about a 10,000 hour lifespan, but as stated earlier, their usable life is much shorted because of decreased light output over time. All other tubes are less (by about half) than this, but again, it's a moot point as they should be replaced every six months.


Now we're getting serious

HID or High Intensity Discharge are the big bright lamps you see in grocery stores, street lighting and industrial lighting. They can be very large and draw a lot of power. Indeed 2000 watt and 6000 watt lamps exist, however small ones, down to 70 watts are available.


These lamps produce a lot of light output quite efficiently, however they can be quite expensive to install initially and may require a fan for cooling in the housing/reflector as they can produce phenomenal amounts of heat. These lamps are used by growers who need lots of light.
HID lamps requite a ballast, and almost every bulb requires it's own type of ballast. The ballasts are expensive and bulky and are not something you trot on down to the corner hardware store to pick up, although larger hardware stores may have some; they are usually reasonably priced. You'll have to go to a lighting supplier for most of them however.
HID lamps are built like halogen bulbs. A small capsule contains the vapour that an arc is sent through. This capsule is in turn encased in the much larger outer bulb body. There is quite a bit of UV generated by the inner capsule that is filtered by the outer capsule. All these bulbs carry warnings not to operate them if the outer capsule is broken.


There are three basic types of HID lamps: mercury vapour, sodium vapour and metal halide.

Mercury vapour

When you see a bright light illuminating some industrial building and it has a decided bluish cast - that's mercury vapour. Mercury vapour lamps have an output spectrum that is almost entirely blue-white, with very little red. Worse, the spectrum is not continuous, there are spectral peaks at certain wavelengths. These lamps, although not useless - there is no doubt very good results can be obtained with them - are equivalent to cool white fluorescents. Yes they work, but why bother going to this expense and trouble when other bulbs will yield much greater success?
One interesting variation on this theme is the self ballasted bulb. These bulbs (around 250 watts) require no ballast, they just screw into a standard medium base (ie. incandescent) fixture and voila, light. These lamps have a duo-spectrum for colors, besides it emitting light on the blue/white end of the spectrum, it does emit reddish/yellow light (from the filaments), therefore, it does have more of a light spectrum that plants depend on. The downside is these bulbs are not as efficient as regular mercury vapour lamps because they use the resistive properties of the large filaments as a ballast, and these bulbs are expensive, around $50 for 250 watts. Of course with mercury vapour lamps having a 10,000 hour lifespan the high cost of the bulb must be considered in view of the lack of expense for a ballast.

Sodium vapour lamps

These lamps come in two varieties, high pressure sodium and low pressure sodium, although this is rather a moot point, as the light they output is monochromatic (pure) yellow, and are generally used in conjunction with sunlight or metal halide lights. They are a full ten times more efficient then incandescent bulbs, in fact these are the most efficient bulbs made, and have a 24,000+ hour lifespan. These are one of the cheapest HID bulbs to purchase, and can be found in most hardware stores for around $80 for bulb and ballast. Spare bulbs are around $30.

Metal Halide

Like sodium vapour, these lamps come in two versions, regular and colour corrected (HQI) versions. The HQI versions have a uniform, sunlight-like output spectra, whereas the standard halide bulb has a lot of yellow, some blue and not much red. Unlike sodium vapour, these lamps are very useful to the grower needing a lot of light. They can be found nominally in 250, 400, and 1000 watt sizes, from most manufacturers, but Osram also makes a 70 watt and a 150 watt size. The 70 watt bulb is only 2 x 3 inches, although is unfortunately a 3000K colour temperature bulb. You have to go to a 250 watt bulb to get 5400K colour temperature.
These bulbs range in life from 6000 to 10,000 hours. Bulbs are around $50, ballasts are around $100.

Some sample setups

Obviously with a plethora of different type of lighting systems to choose from, trying to figure out what tube to use can be a nightmare. Largely it depends on what you are trying to illuminate, and what your budget it. It also depends on what size area you are trying to illuminate.
Many small plantstands have a small plastic or metal hood that has one or two tube shaped incandescent bulbs. For the bulbs to provide enough light to grow plants they need to be of such high wattage that there can be an excessive amount of heat being given off from the bulbs.
Incandescent illumination, although inexpensive in initial setup cost is not recommended. The heat generated by these light bulbs almost always overheats the plants. The cost to operate is fairly high, and the quantity of light is low compared to the amount of heat produced. Some of the smaller halogen bulbs are useful for supplementing fluorescent lights, as the halogens, because they are still incandescent, put out quite a bit of red light. Not only does this help to balance the spectrum, but it has a more pleasant aesthetic appearance.
Theoretically a 300 or 500 watt halogen lamp could be used but 500 watts is a lot of energy; a 175 watt metal halide bulb will provide the same amount of light for a lot less energy. The only practical use for incandescent lights would be in a setup that was primarily fluorescent. A couple of small halogen bulbs, if well shielded from water splashes would provide the red light so needed by plants.
Fluorescent lights are the most economical way of lighting your plants in the long run. Once the initial purchase of the fixture is made the low cost of operation and long life of the tubes makes fluorescent light very attractive. For a beginner that has an incandescent fixture the new compact fluorescent bulbs with integrated ballasts will, in many cases, screw right into the existing socket. Bulbs for these are available from 2700K to 5000K colour temperatures, although as of this writing only Osram makes 5000K compact fluorescents.
The absolute cheapest setup is to buy whatever fluorescent tubes are on sale at the local hardware store. Usually cool white. This is far from the best, but it will work. One cool white and one warm white is a little better, although one plant growth light and one daylight bulb is still a fairly cheap setup, (both are well under $10) with quite good light quality.
For growing plants, a setup consisting of one plant light, two wide spectrum plant lights and one chroma 75 (or equivalent) will provide the right amount of the correct type of light. Triton (or equivalent) tubes could be used of cost is no object. If the pinkish colour is objectionable, two Ultralume 3500 and two Ultralume 5000 can be used instead of the wide spectrum plant lights.
Low light plants will do ok under two Gro-Lux or Gro-Lux wide spectrum tubes.
For growing high light plants, two (or four, depending on preferences) chroma 75's can be used. Or an HID lamp would probably be the most appropriate. Rather than a large number of fluorescent tubes to supply enough light, it would have been cheaper to install a halide lamp in the first place.
The cost of the HID lamps is pretty large, and even worse, the more useful lamps to growers of plants are even more expensive. Usually mercury vapour or sodium vapour lamps are available at semi-reasonable rates from hardware stores where they are sold as security light; especially in rural areas. I have heard of people trying sodium vapour lamps, but have never heard of any success with them. People have had some mixed success with mercury vapour lamps. Metal halide lamps give very good results, but are the most expensive and difficult to obtain of all the HID lamps.
For applications requiring a REALLY BRIGHT light, the current GE lighting catalog lists a 10,000 watt carbon arc lamp used for lighthouses.

How to Build a Landscaping Retaining Wall

Retaining walls make beautiful additions to gardens, patios and overall landscaping. It's a decorative-- and very popular-- way to organize a yard. It's also one of those projects almost any homeowner can do. It just takes some planning and patience. Read on to learn how to build a landscaping retaining wall.



Use a measuring tape to come up with dimensions and determine where you will build the retaining wall.

Determine the linear feet of the project, so you know how many concrete blocks to purchase.

Make sure the area where the retaining wall will be built is clearly marked. Using spray paint will help.

Use a shovel to dig a trench. Make sure the trench is wide enough to fit a block plus a couple inches for rock. It needs to be deep enough to partially bury the first row of concrete blocks. Usually this will be 8 to 12 inches below ground level.

Add at least one inch of crushed rock to the trench. This will help make the base firm.

Make sure the trench is level by shifting the amount of crushed rock, so the blocks will be straight. Make sure the crushed rock is compact.

Place blocks side by side along the trench, leveling each one as you go.

If your rock wall includes multiple layers, stack the blocks in an alternating pattern. You can choose to recess the blocks or stack them straight on top of each other.

Place landscaping fabric between the concrete blocks and the dirt. When it rains, the dirt will be filtered and will not get the blocks muddy.

Fill the extra space between the concrete blocks and the landscape fabric with clean rock.

For end pieces and odd shapes, cut the blocks using a hand chisel or circular saw.

Tips & Warnings

It’s best to build a wall three feet high or lower. For larger projects, hire a professional.

The taller the wall, the better it is to recess the blocks.

Be aware of nearby trees. Their roots could eventually cause your retaining wall to shift or fall.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Planting & Taking Care Of GroundCovers

Characteristics of Ground CoversThe suitability of a plant to use as a ground cover is determined by it's growing habits, not necessarily by size or by height. Typically, ground covers sprawl, spread, run, or colonize by reseeding. Some ground covers will only grow in full shade, others thrive in full sun, and still others will survive no matter where you grow them. Some prefermoist soils rich in humus, others are well adapted to dry conditions. The shallow root system of most ground covers makes them suitable for planting between Rhododendrons or other broad leaf evergreens, which resent having their roots disturbed by cultivation. These attributes of the ground cover make them very useful for several purposes, including weed and erosion control.
Ground covers come in a wide range of sizes, colors and textures, adding interest, beauty, and uniformity to the garden. Make your plant selections carefully, so that the plants are suited to your climate, plant hardiness, water availability, soil pH, and light exposure.
Once established, ground cover plants usually require little or no maintainence other than a yearly feeding
with a good all purpose (10-10-10) fertilizer.

Growing Ground CoversUtilizing ground covers can help to transform a bare or dull part of your yard into a beautiful, low maintainance show area...
Ground covers are planted in the same manner as other perennials or shrubs. Generally, they should be planted in the spring orearly summer to allow them time to become established before winter. As in other areas of the garden, you will want to "stage" your ground covers so that the lower growing types are in the foreground, with the taller shrubby varieties as the backdrop.
You can plant low growing annuals in the spaces between your permanent ground covers as a temporary "fill in" until the perennials become established.Nasturtiums work quite well for this purpose.
The first step in preparing the new area is to rid the soil of all the weeds and debris. Till the soil first, and then mix in organic matter, such as compost, peat moss, or manure, into the top eight inches of the soil.
Usually, you will plant your ground covers about a foot apart, but if you need aquick cover up or you are on a tight budget, you can plant them closer together... or farther apart.
Water your ground covers regularly for the first year to ensure their survival, and to help them become established.
Apply a thick layer of mulch to control weeds, conserve moisture, and moderate the soil temperature. It may require a year or more for your ground cover to become established and begin to spread, depending on the type of plant and the conditions. Once they become established, ground covers will usually maintain themselves with a minimum of watering and care.

Pruning ground coversSome ground covers look neater with an occasional pruning or mowing. Normally, however, the only necessary pruning will be to remove damaged foliage or disproportionate, straggling branches, or just to keep the plant confined to it's allotted area. Certain plants such as pachysandra or English ivy will look much neater and better if they are literally mowed back to six inches every other year.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ponytail Palm

Botanical name: Beaucarnea Recurvata
Plant type: Houseplant
Sun exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun
Ponytail Palms are a great, long-lived indoor plant. (Despite it’s name and palm-like appearance, it’s not a true “palm.”)
This plant has long green leathery stems that develop as the plant ages. Indoors, they can reach up to 3 feet high. The only thing that is difficult about this plant is adapting to its watering needs.
Use a fast draining soil, such as cactus potting soil also A soil mix consisting of 2 parts loam to 1 part peat moss to 2 parts sand has been used successfully. To this mix, small gravel may be added to ensure good drainage
Normal room temperature is good for most of the year, but keep it cooler in the winter (50 to 55° F).
Find a location with bright light.
Keep soil fairly dry. Water from spring through fall allowing soil to dry on the surface before re-watering. During the winter only water occasionally.
Fertilize in the spring and bring into brighter room for the summer months.

Pony Tail Palms are very slow growing and very drought tolerant. Plants can be watered every three weeks during the growing season and fertilized once during this period. During the winter months, the plants should be watered only enough to keep the foliage from wilting (this usually equates to 1 dose of water during the winter). Over-watering is the single most frequent cause of failure when growing Beaucarnea. The ponytail palm is a very slow growing tree
Re-potting every other year at the most is all the Ponytail Palm needs.
Overwatering can contribute to stem rot. If you withhold watering, the plant may be able to internally cure the problem.
Spider mites occur on the leaves, but can be fixed by rubbing a cloth of soap and water on the stems.
Wit & Wisdom
Another name for Ponytail Palm is Elephant Foot Palm.

Planting Calla lily

Although not considered true lilies, the calla lily is an extraordinary flower. This beautiful plant, available in a multitude of colors, grows from rhizomes and is ideal for use in beds and borders as well as bouquets. You can also grow calla lilies in containers, either outdoors or within a sunny window as houseplants. Here are a few tips on growing calla lilies that will make them sparkle in your yard.
Tips on Growing Calla Lilies

It is easy to grow calla lilies. These plants do not generally require too much. Proper planting and location are about the only important things to consider when growing calla lilies. Care of calla lilies requires that they be planted in loose, well-drained soil. They prefer to be located in full sun or partial shade in warmer climates. Calla lilies are typically planted in the spring. However, wait until the threat of frost has passed and the soil has warmed sufficiently before planting calla lilies.

Calla lilies should be planted rather deep, about four inches for greater results, and spaced approximately a foot apart. Once planted, the area should be watered well. Calla lilies enjoy being kept moist and will also benefit from a monthly dose of fertilizer throughout the growing season.
Calla Lilies Care

As with planting, there’s not too much required for the care of calla lilies other than keeping them watered and fertilized. An adequate layer of mulch around the plants will help keep the area moist and free of weeds. Calla lilies require a dormant period once flowering has ceased. During this time, you should refrain from watering as much to allow the plant to die back.

If you grow calla lilies in containers, cease watering and move the plant to a dark area once the foliage has faded. Regular watering can resume within 2-3 months. Although calla lilies can remain in the ground year round in warmer climates, they should be lifted and stored in cooler areas.
Care of calla lilies over the winter

Dig up the rhizomes in autumn, usually after the first frost, and shake off any soil. Allow them to dry out for a few days before storing the rhizomes for winter. Calla lilies should be stored in peat moss and located in a cool, dry area, preferably dark, until warmer temperatures return in spring. Likewise, you can choose to start your calla lilies indoors during late winter and transplant them outside in spring. Calla lilies can also be divided when lifted or during their dormancy period.

Growing calla lilies is easy and calla lilies care is minimal at best. Choosing to grow calla lilies in the garden or as houseplants is a great way to add color to any area. These tips on growing calla lilies will help you enjoy these lovely flowers even more.

Friday, July 22, 2011

How to Build a Simple Backyard Waterfall

 Adding a waterfall to a boring backyard can bring life and tranquility into a home garden. Waterfalls can transform a backyard into a more sophisticated garden with ease. By planning well, taking the appropriate precautions and understanding the requirements for a backyard garden, a simple backyard waterfall can become a work of art.
Start with Some Preplanning
Before heading to the store to purchase supplies for building a waterfall, survey the garden and take some time to plan. Less is more when determining the appropriate size. Measure the backyard and the area that you are considering for placement of the waterfall. Keep children and pets in mind when selecting the location and the size. In addition, consider the layout. A waterfall that leads down a small stream and into a tiny pond sounds wonderful, but it could be too much for a small space. A small waterfall with a pond is the ideal choice for many gardens. Consider the size of a backyard waterfall carefully before beginning.
Location Is Everything
Selecting the best location for an outdoor waterfall and pond requires more than accounting for space. Be sure to consider any underground wiring or cables, the sound of the waterfall, and whether it might be distracting to neighbors if placed close to property lines, and the distance to a plug for the waterfall pump (one may need to be installed). If the backyard has a slope to it, placing the waterfall nearby can aid in the flow of water and help the waterfall and pond blend into the garden nicely. Now that these things have been taken into consideration, it's finally time to head to a local hardware store.
Make Purchases Carefully
A backyard waterfall can become expensive quickly if attention isn't paid to what's needed and what's purchased. A shovel to dig the hole for the pond, a waterfall pump, rocks, sand and gravel are all necessary. Think about which underwater pond plants would help create a delicate balance between beauty and the health of the pond and waterfall. Purchasing a waterfall kit from a store can potentially save money and provide all the directions and a warranty (check the box). It's an ideal choice for those who want to build their own waterfall but aren't sure exactly where to begin. Whether selecting a backyard waterfall kit or purchasing all of the materials separately, be sure to keep your budget in mind.
Measure First, Dig Second
Once the purchases have been made and the measurements and location are set, it's time to begin the process of digging the pond and then building the waterfall and rock structure around it. Many landscapers agree that you should construct a pond that is one and a half times the surface area of your waterfall and stream. Use this rule of thumb when digging and lining the pond that the waterfall will flow into. Include rocks and gravel on the bottom of the pond.
Waterfall Pumps Keep the Water Flowing
The waterfall filter or waterfall pump will need to be installed at this point as well. Be sure to follow the directions included with the device or with your waterfall kit in order to get it placed correctly from the beginning. A waterfall pump requires electricity and will circulate the water to the top of the waterfall in order for it to flow into the pond.
The Waterfall's Design
Once the hole, liner and waterfall pump are in place, play with the placement of rocks around the pond in order to create the waterfall. Finding the right setup requires patience and might be one of the most arduous parts of the process. Be sure the design is exactly what is desired before filling the pond with water and attempting to try the waterfall out for the first time.
Fill the Pond with Water, and Watch the Waterfall Flow 
Once the steps are carried out, the waterfall can be filled with water. The pump can be switched on, and the water should flow gracefully over the rocks and into the pond. If the rocks are at the right height from the pond, the slight trickle of water into the pond should create a beautiful, soothing sound, instead of the sound of water shooting from a tap.
Designing a water garden with a backyard waterfall does take a bit of time, patience, preparation and trial and error. However, with the right equipment and some perseverance, a backyard waterfall is a stunning component of any garden.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ixora coccinea

Although there are some 400 species in the genus Ixora, only a handful are commonly cultivated, and the common name, ixora, is usually used for I. coccinea. Ixora is a dense, multi-branched evergreen shrub, commonly 4-6 ft (1.2-2 m) in height, but capable of reaching up to 12 ft (3.6 m) high. Ixora has a rounded form, with a spread that may exceed its height. The glossy, leathery, oblong leaves are about 4 in (10 cm) long, with entire margins, and are carried in opposite pairs or whorled on the stems. Small tubular, scarlet flowers in dense rounded clusters 2-5 in (5-13 cm) across are produced almost all year long. There are numerous named cultivars differing in flower color (yellow, pink, orange) and plant size. Several popular cultivars are dwarfs, usually staying under 3 ft (1 m) in height. Ixora 'Nora Grant' is a popular dwarf and 'Super King' is a popular hybrid with much larger flower clusters than the species.

Ixora coccinea is native to tropical southeast Asia, including southern India and Sri Lanka. It has become one of the most popular flowering shrubs in South Florida gardens and landscapes.
Ixora is moderately salt tolerant, but not at all tolerant of alkaline soils, which will cause the leaves to become chlorotic (yellowish). Don't plant ixora where it will get runoff from concrete or stucco. Do plant in acidic soil, feed with a high nitrogen fertilizer and mulch well.
Light: Ixora does well in partial shade in the warmest areas. It does best, however, with full sun most of the day, but some shade during the hottest hours. Plants in more sun will be denser and more compact, and produce more flowers.
Moisture: Ixora likes high humidity and a moist, friable, well drained soil that is high in organics. During warm weather they should be watered regularly. Water sparingly in winter.
Hardiness: If temperatures dip into the thirties F (5 or below C), leaves and small twigs will be damaged. Light freezes may kill the plant to the ground, but it usually sprouts back in spring.
Propagation: Propagate ixora from young fast growing tip cutting in spring or summer. Bottom heat improves chances for success.


Ixora is used in warm climates for hedges and screens, foundation plantings, massed in flowering beds, or grown as a specimen shrub or small tree. In cooler climes, ixora is grown in a greenhouse or as a potted house plant requiring bright light. Ixora is also grown in containers, looking very distinguished as a patio or poolside plant. This tight, compact shrub is much branched and tolerates hard pruning, making it ideal for formal hedges, although we think it is at its best when not sheared.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

How To Germinate Palm Seeds

Over the years I've tried many different methods to germinate palm seeds. Some methods that I've tried are very complex, but I've learned that for most species, the simpler techniques work just fine. Presented here are the results of my experiences over the years: an easy method which yields success. Follow these guidelines and you can maximize your success germinating palm seeds.
Harvest the seeds...
It's best to collect seeds when the palm fruit is completely ripe or as soon as it falls from the tree. The fresher the seed, the better results you will have. The probability of successfully germinating palm seeds decreases with time. The time that seeds remain viable varies widely, from weeks to years, even among trees of the same species.

clean them...

Palm seeds are enclosed in a fleshy or fibrous skin, or wall, that generally should be removed before germination. The removal of the fleshy part of the fruit maximizes germination chances and minimizes the chance of fungus growth and other seed contamination. Caution: some palm seeds contain an irritant that may aggravate your skin. For example, you may want to wear rubber gloves when cleaning Chamaedorea seeds.
It is best to plant the palm seed right after cleaning. If this is not possible, seal the seed in a plastic bag, and store at about 65-75º F (18-24ºC).
soak them...
Before planting, soak the seed in clean water for at least one day. If you have more time, you can maximize the chances of germination by soaking the seed for seven days at room temperature and changing the water every day. The fact that some seeds float and others may sink is not a universal sign of how viable the seed is. For example, seeds of some palm species are dispersed by floating, while other palm seeds may not float at all.

sterilize them...

After soaking in water, dip the seeds in a 10% solution of household bleach (one part bleach to ten parts water) to minimize the chance of fungal growth. Use waterproof gloves or a tool to dip the seeds into the solution briefly, and then rinse the seeds thoroughly.
Use any good soil mix that is well drained. Many use a commercial potting or seed-starting mix that contains sand or other inert material (Perlite, vermiculate, etc.), that ensures good drainage. Seeds need to be kept medium wet to damp to maximize germination success.
A golden rule: never let the seeds dry out as they may die!. Also, ensure the soil has good drainage since overly wet soil can eventually lead to the seed rotting.
plant them...
Plant the seeds just even with the surface of the planting medium. This allows you to view the seed and still keeps enough soil around it to keep it uniformly moist. You may plant a number of seeds in a pot. Allow enough space between them for the young plant to begin development.
Germinating seeds need warmth, not light. Keep the seeds warm in a temperature range of about 70-100ºF (21-38ºC). Keep the seeds in the shade or indoors and out of direct sunlight. Sunlight may provide warmth to seeds, but inevitably leads to the seeds drying out... a number-one enemy of seed germination.
...and wait...
How long will palm seeds take to germinate and how many seeds will germinate? Palms seeds generally are erratic in germination. Different species, and even seeds from the same species take different times to germinate. Some seeds will be viable, and some will not be viable. Although estimates vary widely, about 75% of palm species take less than 100 days for their seeds to germinate.