Garden Articles

  1. The Best Hardy Camellias for the Landscape

    Camellias have been known to trigger acute plant envy in Northern U.S. gardeners.  If only those voluptuous blooms came on hardier shrubs that could withstand sub-zero temperatures. As a matter of fact, in some cases they do.  Although most camellias trace their origins to mild subtropical and maritime areas of East Asia, a few hail …

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  2. Clivia for Glorious Winter Flowers

    From the last week of November through the first of the New Year, many of us are surrounded by colorful seasonal decorations.  But then January arrives and all that glitters is gone.  To stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder, or at least help tide you over until the first crocuses push up through the cold earth, invest in house plants that bloom naturally during the winter months.  Clivia miniata, occasionally called “Natal lily” or “fire lily”, but most often known as just plain “clivia”, is one of the best.

    With bold orange or yellow clusters of trumpet flowers blooming atop tall (18-24”) stalks and strappy green leaves, clivia is reminiscent of other well-loved Amaryllis family members, like Nerine and Crinum.  It is a perennial, but is only winter hardy in USDA Zones 9-11.  The upward-facing clivia trumpets are somewhat smaller than those of another relative, the showy amaryllis (Hippeastrum app.), but each cluster contains more flowers.  Clivia colors are dramatic—bright orange is the most common—but it is not hard to find pale or bright yellow varieties.

    Clivia History

    Clivia is winter hardy in USDA Zones 9-11, but it is also a popular house plant.

    The genus was named in honor of an Englishwoman, Lady Charlotte Florentia Clive, wife of an early nineteenth century Duke of Northumberland.  Clivia is native to coastal areas in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa, where the orange-flowered form was discovered by English plant hunters in the early 1820’s.  The first plants to bloom in England did so in 1827 in a greenhouse at Syon House, one of the Northumberlands’ residences.  Much later, in 1888, a rarer, yellow-flowered clivia was discovered, also in the Natal.

    The colorful flowers were a hit and clivia became a “must have” for wealthy Victorian plant collectors.  As the nineteenth century progressed, the cheerful orange blooms made frequent appearances in conservatories and greenhouses.  Fast forward nearly 100 years, to the second half of the twentieth century, and breeders in the United States, Australia and elsewhere were hard at work enlarging the number of forms and colors, especially in the yellow range.  Hybridization has also resulted in peach, pink and red-flowered forms, though they are quite expensive.  While clivia hybridizing is not difficult, it takes many plant generations to produce strong, reliable new strains that come true from seed.

    Clivia Sources

    These days, orange and yellow clivia are available at reasonable prices from many traditional and online outlets.  For instant color, buy blooming specimens, which are the most expensive.  However, if you are willing to be patient and play the long game, you can get a smaller plant for relatively little and nurture it to blooming size.  Remember that the pictures you see online or in catalogs are probably photos of mature plants.  Your clivia may not have as many blooms, especially in its first year or two of flowering.

    Clivia Care

    This deepest orange-red clivia is a real show stopper.

    Whether your clivia is mature or somewhat smaller, pot it up using a high-quality potting mixture, like Fafard® Professional Potting Mix.  The size of the decorative pot should only be a little larger than the nursery pot.  Clivia is fond of close quarters.

    The care regimen is reasonably easy.  If yours is already in bloom, position the pot where you can see the flowers best, water when the top of the soil feels dry, and enjoy the show for up to a month.  Afterwards, place in a sunny window and continue to water and feed once a month with a balanced fertilizer diluted according to package directions.  If you can do so, let your clivia have a summer vacation outside in a lightly shaded location that is protected from wind and other weather-related disturbances.

    If you live in a cold-winter area, bring the plant indoors before the first frost.  To stimulate winter bloom, stop watering around October 1, and put the clivia in a cool place, ideally with a temperature between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, for at least five weeks and preferably a bit longer.  When the dormancy period is over, bring the plant back into the warmth and light and begin watering again.  Flower stalks should appear after a few weeks.  Keep up this routine for a few years, and you will most likely see more flowers every year.  When repotting, which should only happen after several years, do not increase the pot size dramatically or flowering may be affected.

    Unlike some other decorative plants, clivia is an excellent long-term investment.  It is well worth it to see some floral light at the end of the mid-winter tunnel.

  3. Holiday Decorating with Evergreens

    Evergreens of all kinds are a sign of the season, whether used to decorate our landscapes, containers, holiday vases, or festive winter scenes. Needled branches and pine cones also fill the air with resinous fragrance associated with snowy days and glad tidings. Here are several jolly ways to use evergreens and evergreen branches to decorate …

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  4. 10 Best Trees for Year-Round Interest

    Everyday trees provide beauty, shade, air purification and windbreaks, not to mention food and shelter for birds and animals. In spite of all that, we gardeners sometimes ask for even more—four seasons of interest. The following 10 trees are great landscape performers, adding something special to the landscape in every season, including varying combinations of …

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  5. Landscape Shrubs that Tolerate Salt

    Salt can be a winter lifesaver for cars and pedestrians.  It can also be murder on the garden, sometimes literally.  Most de-icing salt contains sodium, which is toxic to many plant species.  Even when used sparingly, it can find its way onto the leaves and roots of nearby plants, disfiguring or killing them. One of …

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  6. Rustic Harvest Décor from the Garden

    After the leaves have fallen, the well-fortified garden is filled with a wealth of late-season branches, berries, hips, dried grasses and flower heads for rustic fall décor. Early fall is when they are at their brightest and most beautiful for indoor and outdoor decorating. Spring and fall are the best times to plant ornamentals that …

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  7. Growing Winter Onions and Shallots

    Fall and winter – when most of the vegetable garden is slumbering – is a great time to get a jump on next year’s onion, scallion, and shallot crop.  Most members of the onion tribe (known botanically as Allium) are hardy perennials and biennials that tolerate winters in most areas of the U.S.  Garlic (as …

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  8. Bringing Herbs Indoors for Winter

    Summer vacation is wonderful for people with culinary herbs.  While you enjoy longer days and uninterrupted stretches of shorts-and-sandals weather, your plants are basking in summer sunshine and warmth.  Basil grows bushy, thyme exudes powerful fragrance, and mints threaten to take over the landscape.  You can harvest herbs whenever you need them, secure in the knowledge that the summer garden will provide an ever-ready supply.
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  9. Small Native Shrubs with Big Fall Color

    A compact cranberry viburnum glows like embers in an autumn landscape.

    Some of the most brilliant fall shrubs come in small packages and have the added benefit of being native. This sets them apart from the many non-native, ecological troublemakers sold in most garden centers, which are seasonally beautiful but noxiously invasive. Landscape favorites like dwarf Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), are among the worst weedy offenders.
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  10. Sustainable “Imperfect” Turf Options

    The “perfect lawn” – that oft-celebrated but all-too-rarely achieved carpet of unblemished turf grass – is a seductive concept.  It’s also impossible to grow in most areas of the United States without major inputs of pesticides, fertilizer, water, and labor (as well as cash).  This is not to mention the significant secondary costs that come with chemically supported lawns, such as damage to beneficial soil microbes and the neighboring environment.  What’s good for that velvety green carpet is often not good for other forms of life.
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