January 22, 2017
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A dendrobium orchid ( SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTO )

Don’t fear the orchid

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I had always been afraid of orchids, assuming they have the temperament of divas and take an inordinate amount of care. But I have a stunning white moth orchid (phalaenopsis) that has been blooming for six weeks with no sign of slowing down or dropping blossoms. I’ve found moth orchids will just bloom and bloom without much more than regular watering and occasional fertilizing.

Since I had luck with the moth orchid, I purchased a dendrobium orchid. Now that it’s finished blooming it needs to be repotted. I’ve had to brush up on my orchid repotting skills since it is sitting crooked in its tiny grocery store pot that must be propped on three sides to sit up.

An orchid will let you know it needs repotting when it begins to retain water. The pot gets heavy and the bark looks saturated. This usually means that the medium is beginning to decay. Decaying bark reduces the amount of oxygen that the roots receive, and this can mean a waterlogged plant. Most orchids are epiphytes, meaning their roots need a constant supply of oxygen. This is why they are best grown in a special mix that is predominantly bark chips or long fibered sphagnum moss rather than peat moss or potting soil.

A short course on conifers

At the local municipal facility, cut evergreen trees which had just been decked out in holiday decor now line up in preparation for repurposing. Many of these trees had been meticulously cared for at tree farms to encourage them to grow into specimens suitable for the season.

How I wish I could have taken my cut holiday fir tree and planted it into my landscape! Its shape was absolutely perfect for a focal point in my yard.

A garden that makes scents

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I’ve had some time to read lately. Not the usual horticulture texts but my favorite, historical fiction. It seems that in every novel, whether Victorian or more recent, the authors use the scents of the garden as a backdrop for their story.

It’s made me muse on how we tend to get away from the delicious scents that some of the old-fashioned flowers have in favor of larger, more colorful blossoms. Often plant breeders have focused on beauty at the expense of scent, but the old-fashioned flowers are still out there if we just do a little searching. Whatever you choose, be sure to put them near your windows as well as the path into the garden so their scents can wash over you. I’m going to add window boxes.

All-America winners for 2017

From my office window, I have a wonderful view of the Kenosha County Center All-America Selections Display Garden, which is now bleak of vegetation. Winter may halt the growing of non-hardy flowers and vegetables in our region, but ideas are germinating in the minds of the Master Gardeners as they plan for next year’s garden and its theme, “Foodscaping: Interspersing Edibles in the Ornamental Garden.”

All-America Selections is a non-profit organization that tests new flower and vegetable varieties, then promotes the best performers as AAS winners. These winners are grown in display gardens throughout the nation to provide the opportunity for gardeners to view them growing in site conditions similar to their own.

Favorite gadgets for the smart home

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Every month for the past year I’ve covered smart home products, including everything from frying pans to toilets to alarm systems.

Smart home products let you control and automate items around your house.

Brighten up with a bouquet

When the weather is not exactly uplifting, one of the easiest things you can do to lift your spirits is to fill the house with blossoms. They are fairly inexpensive at almost every grocery store, and you’ll find all kinds of interesting types, some of which you may not have seen before. It’s a small investment that will bring days of smiles.

Of course, there are the standard carnations and daisies, but you can also find fragrant lilies, interesting hybrid chrysanthemums, sunflowers, delphiniums, hypericum, my favorite freesias, and hundreds of others. You will find them already bundled in bouquets as well as sold as individual stems so you can create your own bouquet.

Resolutions for a new year of happy gardening

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It’s the time of year when we certainly do a lot of reflecting. And, even though it’s cold and snowy, my thoughts always turn to my garden and landscape for the next season. Thinking of spring brightens my mood. Some of my reflections involved resolutions to correct mistakes from last year, but also, I love to savor the successes.

For example, I grew fantastic garlic this year. Fifty heads as usual, some almost as big as my fist. I have a bin full of garlic from which to cook for the winter. But I tend to use less than I really like just so I don’t run out of stored garlic by April (and am tempted to use the ones I put aside for replanting). So, this year, I’m going to plant 75 cloves. I have the room, and there’s no reason I can’t have as much as I want. Plenty for cooking and maybe even some to share.

Gardening facts at your fingertips

Gardeners, plant lovers and seekers of information on other subjects can give themselves a gift this season without even worrying about the gift wrap.

The Learning Store through the University of Wisconsin Extension is available at your fingertips by typing learningstore.uwex.edu into your computer. Not to be confused with another learning store entity, the UWEX Learning Store “offers educational media developed by Cooperative Extension researchers and staff to support healthy and financially secure families, food safety, environmental issues, agriculture and farming, community and economic development,” as stated on its website.

Merry Kitschmas! Collectors of vintage decor celebrate a retro holiday

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MINNEAPOLIS — Want to time-travel back to the 1960s, when Shiny Brite ornaments dangled from shiny aluminum trees? Step inside Cassy Zamora’s Columbia Heights home, where she’s surrounded herself with a vast collection of pre-1970s holiday decor.

From the red flocked Santas dancing a jig to an illuminated Blow Mold Santa, it’s clear that Zamora is especially mesmerized by the retro image of St. Nick. “I like the full cheeks and big blue eyes on the happy Santa faces from that period,” she said.

Practical gifts for gardeners

In a pinch and need last-minute gifts for gardening friends? There’s no need to get crazy about finding something unique. Most gardeners are fairly practical folks and will love utilitarian gifts. Here are a few suggestions:

* One of the best gardening gifts I ever received was an ordinary bucket. Every gardener can use another bucket, and mine was a shiny galvanized pail filled with five pairs of inexpensive, brightly colored cotton gloves. My bucket is with me in the garden most of the time, to haul compost to the lettuce bed or to turn upside down to sit on, and I never have to look far for gloves.

Freebie treasures: Finding beauty and value in repurposing

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AUGUSTA, Maine — OK, I admit it. I pick up castoff gloves I find along the side of the road.

You never know: These gloves that have blown out of the backs of pickup trucks can, if you’re patient, be useful. You just need to hold onto that lonely left until you can match it up with a nearly matching right. Sometimes you get lucky and find a pair straight off, which makes for a very satisfying day.

Have fresh herbs all winter long

Last winter I decided not to grow any herbs on my windowsill and I realized a few weeks into the cold season that I really missed them. So, this year, as we roll into the chilly days ahead, I have a windowsill filled with rosemary, marjoram and lemon thyme. I’ve also started seeds of basil, chives and cilantro.

Even when I’m not using the herbs for cooking, every time I go near the sink, I brush my hands along one of them and carry the lovely scent away with me. And releasing the scent into the air usually puts me in the mood to cook. How can you not think of roasted potatoes when you smell rosemary? Happily, many favorite culinary herbs thrive on a windowsill in winter.

What’s bugging your ficus tree?

Question: White spots have developed at the base of the leaves of my ficus tree. It appears to be uniform throughout the plant. Leaves are dropping from the plant. What is the cause? Should I be concerned? — K.S.

Fig trees, or ficus sp., are popular as houseplants and in interior landscapes. Some people like to move their ficus trees outdoors for the summer and bring them back inside during the winter. They are notorious for leaf drop each time they are moved from one location to another, so be aware of this even if you just rotate the pot in which it is growing.

It’s the bloomin’ holidays!

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Get into the seasonal spirit with blooming indoor winter plants, including potted poinsettias, amaryllis and Christmas cactus.

— Poinsettias will last longer if placed in a warm, sunny location away from heating vents or drafts. Poke holes in the foil wrapper for drainage and place the potted plant on a plate or saucer. (Remember, though, that poinsettias can be poisonous to pets, so keep them out of reach.)

A gardener’s work is never done

Some things to remember:

— Try to have trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs planted by the time all the leaves have fallen (except bare root plants). As the ground cools and freezes, roots also slow their growth. Plants that haven’t developed strong roots may not survive the winter.

Going noir: What to know before painting your walls black

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Would you paint the walls of your home black? A bedroom? Living room? Powder room? We’re not talking blackish brown, as in bistre or chocolate. Or dark gray, a la charcoal or arsenic. Or deep red — rosewood or wine. We mean pure black: achromatic color of prehistoric cave paintings, ancient Greek pottery and fictional 1980s album art. (Remember the all-black LP cover from “This Is Spinal Tap”? To quote lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel, “It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.”)

It’s a bold move in interiors but one that, if executed with care, sets an unexpected tone of moody elegance. Here, interior designers share some tips to know before going noir:

Caring for holiday plants

This time of year, it’s hard not to give in to the urge to bring those beautiful holiday plants into our homes. We’re gardeners, after all, and beautiful plants are part of our souls.

Following a few good practices will go a long way to keeping them healthy when they do come in. They are not hard to care for, but keeping watch on them just as other house plants will assure that we don’t infest our other plants and that they stay fresh and beautiful as long as possible.

Keep those leaves to make mulch

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I know I’ve written about this earlier in the fall, but consider it one more plea. I see so many leaves in piles at the road and I’m sorry to see such wasted organics.

Please reconsider and blow or rake them into your beds. It takes no more effort or work, and you will be doing amazing things for your plants. Best of all, it’s free mulch. You won’t have to make an effort to purchase, transport and spread mulch in spring.

Native plants in the landscape

While the Chicago Cubs were making their mark in baseball parks during 1907 and 1908 as World Series Champions, landscape architect Jens Jensen was going to bat for their city’s park system. Envisioning prairie areas in the heart of Chicago, Jensen’s designs became horticultural home runs, and made him an all-star in landscaping history.

Jensen’s idea to incorporate natural landscapes into the hustle and bustle of urban areas gained attention back then and has taken on a renewed interest in present-day green initiatives.

Office space: How to stay sane when you and your spouse work at home

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Baby boomers moving into semi-retirement or new careers often find themselves working at least some of the time from home — and maybe sharing the space with their spouse or significant other.

That might entail more togetherness than a couple originally bargained for.

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