How To Take Care of Your Poinsettia Plant.

To ensure that your poinsettia plants looks good during the holidays, follow these rules and you should enjoy your plant and keep it healthy.

Place your plant so that it receives indirect sunlight at least 6 hours a day. Screen with a sheer curtain if the sun is direct.
A room temperature of 68 - 70° is best, and do not expose your poinsettia to temperatures below 50° F, if you are comfy, your poinsettia will be. That means that you might not want to put your plant outside as decoration during the chilly nights in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Water your poinsettia when the soil is dry when tested with your finger. Make sure not to over water, and don’t let it sit in standing water.
Fertilize the plant after the bloom is done.
Keep the poinsettia out of drafts and away from heating ducts, fireplaces, or warm appliances.

If you want the plant to re-bloom next year, you can try the following program – with a little bit of luck… it might actually work!
When your plant is not looking it’s best, don’t throw it out, instead put it in a less obtrusive area of your house.

In late March, cut your poinsettia back to about 8”, water it on a regular basis, and use a balanced all-purpose fertilizer. If you stick to the plan by the end of May you should see lots of new growth. Now is the time that you can put your plant outdoors. Make sure that the night temperatures are at least 55° F or above. Continue regular watering and fertilize your plant about every 3 weeks.
You may find that you will have to prune your plant during the summer; you want it bushy, not leggy. You can start pruning in June or July, but be sure to stop by September 1st. If your plant is growing well you will want to transplant the poinsettia into a larger pot (not more than 3-4” bigger than the original pot), make sure you have it in a potting mix that drains well and has a nice quantity of organic matter in it.

Now comes the interesting part. In order to set bud and bloom around Christmas the plant needs to have longer nights earlier than might normally occur. Starting October 1st the plants need to be kept in total darkness for 14 hours each night. You can cover them completely with a large box, or if you have a completely dark room – put them there. For the months of October, November and December the plants need 6 – 8 hours of bright sunlight and night temperatures between 60 - 70° F. If you continue the regular water, fertilizing, and control their light, you could very well have re-blooming poinsettias for Christmas. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work, any stray light can throw the plants off and… each cultivar is a little different and has a different requirement. But… hey, it’s a new challenge, a new project and worth a try – right?
Enjoy, and please let me know if you have any re-bloomers… I’d love to post your photos next year!

Visit me at my website: www.thegrassisalwaysgreener.net


How to Decorate With Plants For The Holidays

Everyone in the neighbor hood is stringing up lights, putting out blow up Santas and adding giant ornaments in the trees in their front yard. Do you really want to look like everyone on the block? How about taking a little time to add seasonal decorations with plants for a change.

Outdoor plants add color, texture, and drama to your house and if you plan a little you will have less and less to do each year. To decorate with plants you need some basic plant knowledge – light requirements, water requirements, and whether your plants are annuals, perennials or shrubs. Grouping your plants using this knowledge along with placement is the key to a successful decorating plan.

Create a colorful entryway to your home with strategically placed pots of flowering plants. If you have steps, decorate each step with outdoor plants that blooms throughout the season. If you don’t have steps, you should alternate sides of the entry and/or place them atop decorated cinder blocks to create varying heights.

An easy arrangement starts with a geranium, surrounded by Cyclamen or Christmas cactus. You can edge the pot with ivy or other draping plant for more texture. Adding annual color that will coordinate the blooms for the different seasons is a great trick.

If you want privacy you can plant clumps of ornamental grass in strategic locations to add a sense of dimension and depth then place seasonal perennials and some annual color in front of the grasses.

For the shadier areas of Santa Clarita use some coleus or caladium for a nice a splash of color. They come in a huge variety of colors and are a great filler or backdrop.

Another cute plan ahead decoration is to plant spring bulbs in a pattern or design. You can plant early blooming crocus in a heart for Valentine’s Day or use red, white and blue tulips to create a flag to bloom for Memorial Day.

Don’t forget to add some plants to spark up the inside of your home. For a centerpiece, use plants with colorful foliage or blooms. If you group several in a container, cover the pots with sphagnum moss or Spanish moss for a finished look. You can add seasonal ornaments (and change them as needed) and the arrangement can take you from Halloween through Valentines Day.


How to Find the Best Day Lily and Iris Plants in Southern California

It’s late fall, almost winter and living in Southern California means that I can still install landscape designs for my fabulous clients. Thanksgiving has gone and although there are plenty of things to spend money frivolously on people’s budgets today beg for a good value for the hard earned money we have. So this week I am spending time with a wonderful client, Jeannie as we spruce up her already beautiful home by clearing away the weeds and putting in a beautiful, colorful, medium maintenance garden design. We have spent a good deal of time together and she knows that she is going to have to ask for help occasionally and that I am here for her questions.

Monday was the main nursery selection day, and although it was windy – it was beautiful weather and my cart driver and plant puller Freddie was a great help at the growing grounds. I am so lucky to have great people to work with at all the nurseries that I visit.

Yesterday was however my favorite plant pick up day. I have the good fortune of having found Greenwood Day Lily Gardens in Somis, CA. and use them whenever possible. They have the best day lily, iris, canna, and pelargoniums (to name a few) plants around and the drive out to Somis is awesome! Cruising out the 126 with KCRW on the radio, I am in heaven.

It is a stress free beautiful trip and I arrive at my destination relaxed and happy. I am glad to note that John (owner of Greenwood) has his fall piles of mulch ready to be spread around his fields. He is a big proponent of twice yearly mulching and his plants certainly are happier for it.

After a visit with Javier and his pal Bon Bon, I’m headed back home.

But as I pull out of the driveway I spy some beautiful horses walking down a ridge, so I decided to visit. Some of them are quite friendly and I am happy to see that although they may flatten their ears at one another, they are inquisitive enough to see if I might have some food.

After a few minutes petting them and visiting, I am back on the road with my beautiful load of Day Lily, Iris, Geraniums, and a few Pelargoniums that I can use as gifts.

I am SO lucky to be able to spend two hours in the car and actually enjoy every minute of it!


How to Pick Trees for Fall Color (and other things to do in November)

November is a great time to add trees to your landscape. Especially deciduous trees with fall color. You can pick trees now, because as you shop for them you will see what they look like in full fall color. Each tree has a slight variation in color and now is the best time to see what the colors of a specific tree are! A planting tip to think about...Remember to support trees in windy areas.

A few other things to do

Use a bloom-booster fertilizer on cool-season flowering annuals to keep them blooming, and if you have Plumeria or other May - July flowering plants you can add some to them too.

If you have a fall/winter crop of vegetables treat them weekly with water-soluble fertilizer only if you did not add slow-release fertilizer at planting time.

Remember... organic is better for our environment! Plants won't know the difference, but the planet will!


What to do in the Garden in October/November

The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting cooler, so you need to make the most of your gardening time. Here is a list of some things that you should be doing in your garden now.

Plant cool-season herbs - chives & parsley & pot up summer herbs & bring into the kitchen.
Plant seeds for cool weather veggies - send me an email if you want a list. Make sure to treat vegetables with slow-release fertilizer at planting.

Dig & divide flowering perennials & ground cover - lily turf, irises, agapanthus,and day lily

Trim evergreen shrubs - remove & replace overgrown shrubs if necessary

Clean up around fruit trees and discard split fruit check those berries and remove raspbery and blackberry plant canes.

Mulch over tender bulbs (cannas, caladiums, dahlias, tuberous begonias & gladioli)

WATERING NOTE: Up to 80 percent of residential water use goes to maintaining our yards. Is your irrigation system running every day? That’s too much! Try taking a day off the timer, preferably the same day the lawn is mowed, and watch the health of your yard improve. If that day is off already… take another one off.

Plant annuals - ageratum, begonia, petunia, sweet alyssum, pansies for winter color

Now is time for the last fertilizer application of the year--including your lawn! Be sure to take this opportunity to fertilize. Make sure to feed citrus trees with a citrus fertilizer at a rate of 1 pound per food of tree spread

Fertilizer Note for Palm Trees, shrubs, and ornamentals:

Slow-release fertilizers provide a steady supply of nutrients for the plants over a long period of time. The primary advantage of a slow release fertilizer is the convenience. In general, slow release fertilizers do not need to be applied as often as water-soluble fertilizers. The optimum fertilizer regimen is three applications per year: once in early spring, once in early summer, and once in late fall. Use a balanced fertilizer (equal numbers) with micro-nutrients.

Add a thin layer of compost to just about everything - your houseplants & lawn included!

"If you are not killing plants, you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener."
~ J. C. Raulston


Lotus - A Guest Post from Ghana

As some of you may know, my eldest son, Marlon is studying abroad at the University of Ghana in Accra. Ghana is in West Africa, so he is VERY far away. I am so proud of him for taking this journey and although I worry (like any other mom) it makes me very happy to know that he is having such a unique and life changing experience. Recently he sent me photos of some plants that he saw in a pond, knowing how much I love plants and wanting to share his photos with me (and to see if I knew what they were). It came to light that he was writing an essay, so of course I asked him for it. I think that it is a wonderful thing to be able to experience so much of this amazing world we live in, so I am sharing this with you in hopes that you will enjoy traveling with me a bit, if only on the worldwide web.

Balme Pond Flora by Marlon Molinare
The pond in front of the Balme library at the University of Ghana,
Legon is home to the magical Nelumbo nucifera most commonly referred
to as the lotus flower. According to Hindu tradition, Visnu along
with Sarasvati and Lakshmi are often depicted sitting on top of lotus
flowers, symbolizing divine beauty and the expansion and unfurling of
the human soul. Among the Botany world however, Nelumbo nucifera is
admired for it’s unique structure and interesting temperature
regulation mechanisms.

The lotus flower anchors itself down to the muddy substrate of the
pond and lies with its leaves on top of the murky water. On average,
the flowers reach heights around 150 cm with radii of approximately 30
cm. This intuitive structure allows the plant to anchor itself to a
stable environment, makes photosynthesis easy by placing the leaves on
the water’s surface, and allows for easy pollination by insects by
sticking up high above neighboring plants

Dr. Roger S. Seymour and Dr. Paul Schultze-Motel of the University of
Adelaide, Australia found that Nelumbo nucifera is able to regulate
it’s internal temperature much like humans and other warm blooded
animals. It has been hypothesized that the lotus flower increases its
temperature in order to accommodate its cold-blooded insect
pollinators. In doing so, the lotus flower provides a warm
environment for the insects that sip its nectar to feed and mate,
while pollinating the plant in the process.

Another fun fact about Nelumbo nucifera is that its seeds can remain
viable for hundreds of years under favorable conditions with the
oldest documented successful germination being from a seed 1300 years
old found in a dried lakebed in northern China. The Lotus flower’s
leaves are also comprised of tiny raised bumps that make them
waterproof and allow water to bead off of the leaves with ease.

You can read about Marlon’s adventures in Ghana at his blog:



When to Plant Spring Flowering Bulbs

Autumn is upon us, so it is time to start thinking about Spring! Sounds counter intuitive, but when it comes to planting bulbs for the springtime, autumn is the time of the year to get your garden in order. Bulb planting time for the California Coast is mid-October through January.

If you live in Southern California like I do you experience relatively long cool winters, very hot to moderate dry summers and low moisture, this is quite good for growing many bulbs, especially those native to dry climates. Since So Cal is very diverse it is important that you take your specific conditions into consideration, if you live in the mountains you must take the altitude into consideration, if you live in the low desert you need to take that heat into consideration. If you live in a valley, you have another more sheltered environment and if you live near the coast make sure to take the salt spray and higher amount of moisture in the air into consideration

Let’s start with the basics; autumn bulb planting should begin when nighttime temperatures stay between 40-50°F. The literature says that it is important that you plant approximately six weeks before the ground freezes to allow sufficient time for rooting. In our case, that may not happen until January (if at all) so I guess it is best to go with the nighttime temperatures. Bulbs take root better in cool soils and will protect themselves from freezing as they acclimate to the soil. Thoroughly water the bulbs after planting this aids the rooting process.

Apply a slow release bulb fertilizer (I like an organic brand) to the top of the ground. This will supply fertilizer for the bulb later in it’s life (second year bloom) as the bulb has all the fertilizer it needs for the first year built right into it! NOTE: I read something interesting about bone meal – the modern day versions of bone meal have little fertilizing properties and they attract rodents and dogs that will dig up your bulbs in search of bones… I now think twice about using bone meal. Also, if you live in a cold weather area add a layer of mulch to the beds where you planted the bulbs when the temperatures drop, to keep the soil at a consistent temperature.

There is a variety of spring flowering bulbs to choose from, so it is important that you take into considerations a few different factors. One factor is how the bulbs grow in your garden. Do you want bulbs that last for many years and remain in the same area of your garden, or do you want bulbs that multiply and add to your garden each year? First factor then is Perennializing or Naturalizing bulbs. Here’s the scoop.

Perennializing – these return for several years. The following is a list of Perennializing Bulbs:
Globe Allium

Naturalizing – these return and multiply. The following are Naturalizing Bulbs:
Grape Hyacinth
Some Narcissus (Daffodils)

You might think, why wouldn’t I want my bulbs to multiply? Let’s think this through – if you have a small bed with not much room and a limited amount of space for other plants why would you plant naturalizing bulbs that would interfere with your other beautifully planted shrubs and perennials yet only bloom for a short period of time? On the other hand if you have the room and want the bright swaths of spring color… go for it!

Another consideration for your bulb collection is when they bloom, check out the list below for boom times, so that when you plant you will have many months of flowers and color.
Very early Spring: Chionodoxa, Narcissus (Early Daffodils), Snow Crocus
Early Spring: Crocus verunus, Early Tulips, Hyacinth, Trumpet Daffodils
Mid Spring: Giant Daffodils, Grape Hyacinth, Mid Season Tulips, Muscari, Ipeion, Liatris
Late Spring: English Blue Bells, English Wood Hyacinth, Golden Bells Daffodils.Late season Tulips
Late Spring/Early Summer: Asiatic Lilies, Allium, Hardy Gladiolus
Mid Summer: Canna, Crocosmia, Dahlia, Gladiolus, Iris, Lilium,
Later Summer: Canna, Dahlia
Fall: Colchium – Authum Crocus (these are poisonous!), Fall Blooming Crocus Autumn Daffs - Sternbergia lutea Spider Lily (not supposed to grow in our area but…see photo).

Now it’s time for you to plan, look at your garden and see where you would like a little extra spring color. Have fun! Play with them. Draw a small sketch and decide how many areas of color you want to add. Your sketch is a good tool to keep, so when you add more plants to your garden you know NOT to dig up your bulbs. You can also still divide and plant Iris, and Day Lily plants and if you need more information, look back on the older blog posts and read all about those wonderful perennials. I usually plant in groupings of three, which give a nice burst of color. If you have more space five would do well too. Remember use those Feng Shui numbers, 3 – 5 – 9. They are great for landscaping too!

Here are a two of my favorite links to mail order bulbs, but be sure to visit your local nursery, as they are very likely stocked with bulbs for planting right now.

Brent & Becky's Bulbs!

McClure & Zimmerman Bulbs


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How NOT to Landscape Your Home

I must first thank my friends Marlana, Nora, and Kim for inspiring me to post this. I have spent a good deal of my time landscaping as well as helping people design and enjoy their landscapes and I must say that I have had to deal with a client or two who has wanted to landscape their yard in a manner that were not always in my taste. I won’t go into details but if you are a friend you probably know about my venture into Disneyland….

None of the clients and friends that I have worked with can compare to some of the designs that I (and my friends) have driven by. So… here for your enjoyment is an assortment of designs (none of them are mine) that I dub, “The Hall of Shame".

Yes, these ARE plastic flowers and the fish are...well VERY interesting!

I welcome your comments; this could be a lot of fun!

I believe in saving water, so why don’t we just paint a bunch of gravel green and pretend it is a lawn?

In case you weren’t sure that it was gravel…

Since we are getting close to the border, why don’t we go with a Southwestern theme? Or is it a design that can double as a game board?

Nora and Marlana share photo credit with me on these…



There are many types of Iris that are cultivated in the United States. Since I work in Southern California and buy all my Iris plants from one vendor, Greenwood Day Lily Gardens, I will only touch lightly on varieties that I cannot get, or will not work in my area.

Spanish, Dutch or English Iris plants are bulbs grown mainly for cut flowers. Florists and plant growers use these types of Irises for flower arrangements; mostly they are not used in a garden setting.
Iris ensata or Japanese Iris, come in white, blue and pink – they love water and are fairly tall plants. They don’t grow well in Southern California however areas without alkaline water or soil will find that they thrive. They look beautiful around ponds and other water features. In our area Louisiana Irises are a great substitute and of course Greenwood has them!
Siberian Iris plants also do not do well in Southern California for some of the same reasons as the Japanese Iris, so we can substitute the Louisiana or Spuria. You lucky mid-west and easterner gardeners can enjoy the Siberians for us.
Spuria Iris are tall perennial irises they range from about 3’ – 6’ and have striking blooms on erect dark green foliage. They look a lot like giant Dutch Iris and they make wonderful cut flower. They pop up year after year with their beautiful white or yellow flower and are often mistakenly referred to as Japanese Iris. They are nothing like the Japanese Iris in one specific trait, they are drought and heat tolerant and prefer heavy, rich soil and like to have their roots in the shade (you can just mulch them). They need at least a half-day of full sun to bloom properly. After the iris blooms you can either continue watering for beautiful foliage or with hold water to let the plant go dormant. Hint: hot weather areas option two is easiest. When the foliage starts looking brown, cut them back to 8-9” and start watering again when the new foliage begins emerging. Spuria Iris do not like to be messed with, so they should only be divided every five to ten years.

Iris japonica ‘Nada’ or Iris ‘Nada’ I found this Iris on the recommendation of John Schoustra owner of Greenwood Day Lily Gardens while in search of plants to use under three huge Pine Trees – I fell in love with this wonderful plant! It is the perfect drought tolerant shade iris for Southern California. The Iris has ruffled white blooms with a touch of lavender, on stems 18”-24” tall over broad bright green foliage up to 18” tall.

I have it mixed in with Ferns, Geranium x Maderense, Hydrangeas, Gardenias, Plectranthus and other hardy acid loving plants. John says that it works great with Clivias and Camellias too!

Louisiana Iris are a great substitute for Japanese or Siberian Iris, they can tolerate poor draining soil and like a little shade. They are perfect near a pond or water feature. They have beautiful green foliage, and I have seen three colorful varieties that I just love!

Pacific Coast Native Iris plants are early bloomers starting their show in April. They are native to California, Washington and Oregon and although they are pretty easy to grow in Northern California they can be a little bit of challenge here in Southern California, especially in the area that I live in. If you use them please be sure not to plant them near anything that will reflect heat, for example against one of our many block walls or in the middle of a parking lot. John suggests using Grandma’s Purple Flag or Great Grandma’s Purple Flag as a substitute. Or… if you are planting in dry shade why not try one of the Iris ‘Nada’ plants?

Bearded Iris are probably the showiest of the bunch, they also are the most fragrant. One of my other plant vendors (Sara) says that they smell like whatever color they are, and if you take a good sniff of two different color iris you will see that she is right! Sara’s family owns Worldwide Exotics and they too have great Iris – just not as many as Greenwood. When Bearded Iris are used in Southern California, they are much more drought and heat tolerant than our native Cali Irises (sorry) and up until recently their use in landscape has been a little bit limited due mostly to their short bloom season. John at Greenwood has varieties of Iris that rebloom, up to five times a year! If you pick your Irises correctly and live in California you can enjoy Irises most of the year. Bearded iris have the most variety among them, they can be as small as 8” to as tall as over 26”.

This is Javier from Greenwood Day Lily Gardens owned by John Schoustra

Since most of the smaller bearded Iris varieties need a substantial winter chill to bloom well, Southern California gardeners will do best with the tall bearded varieties. The older varieties with less ruffled standards are referred to as “Van Gogh style” blooms.

Bearded iris blooms have six petals: three that stand up (standards) and three that hang down (falls). Each fall has a small fuzzy spot near the throat (the beard). Older iris varieties, with narrower, less ruffled standards than newer tall bearded, are referred to as “Van Gogh style” blooms. Peak iris bloom here is late April-May.

If the Iris are planted in August or September, they will very likely bloom the following spring. If they are planted at a later time in the fall, they will concentrate growth on their foliage during the first year and they will flower in the fall. Last year I replanted a bunch of Irises the second week of November and those Irises just started blooming for Labor Day!

Care for Tall bearded Iris is fairly straight forward bearded Iris prefers average garden conditions, with at least half a day of full sun. These plants do not thrive in soggy areas, shady areas (foliage yes, bloom no) or with poor air circulation. You should be sure to cover the rhizomes with ¼” to ½” of soil, and you should avoid using herbaceous ground covers and heavy mulch. Since Tall bearded Irises are not finicky the can survive with low soil fertility, drought yet thrive in a mixed bed of roses and day lily plants. To keep the Iris blooming for may years, you should dig and divide them every 2-4 years. If you forget when you last divided them, you will notice that you have fewer and fewer blooms, so don’t trash them… divide them! (See notes below) Fertilizing is not essential however a low nitrogen fertilizer applied in February and a nice top dressing of compost and gypsum in January/February and August/September will fill their fertilizing needs.

Planting your new Iris rhizome. Dig a shallow hole big enough to hold your rhizome. Form a mound in the center of the hole and set the rhizome on top and let the roots drape down into the hole. Cover the rhizome so that about ¼ - ½” of soil is over the rhizome. Point the fan of leaves in the direction you want it to grow. Water the plant thoroughly and make sure that the Iris settles in. I like to plant clumps of three Irises near one another. This adds unity to your planter bed.

After your Iris blossoms fade you can cut the stalk down to the leaves. The fans of leaves should be left on the plant until late fall because they are making food for the rhizome. The rhizome will be creating offset, which is the manner in which the Iris reproduces. You can also remove the old dried leaves from the plant – especially in the fall. In the late fall you will want to cut back the leaves to about 5” tall.

Dividing your Iris – you will be dividing the Iris to help stimulate new blooms, to manage the amount of space the Iris are taking up, and to have more Iris plants. The best time to divide is about 6 weeks after the blooming ends. If possible withhold water for about a week prior to dividing. (If they are in a bed with other plants… that may not be possible.)

Using a sharp shovel or spade dig around (and under) the entire clump and pry the plant free. Remove the old soil. Cut the leaves to about 6” and trim the long feeder roots back by 1/3. Using a sharp knife cut off divisions. Make sure each division has a fan of leaves and some nice strong roots. Anything mushy, moldy or blackened should be discarded. Leave the divisions out for a day, let the cut ends heal but keep the roots moist. The next day, plant the cleaned rhizomes in the same manner as listed above. You will probably have more rhizomes than room to plant, so select the best rhizomes and discard the rest, or share with friends, family, and neighbors. We have kept varieties of Iris in our family for three generations. Blooming for years in Grandma’s garden, then Mom’s garden, then in our family gardens.

Over the years tall bearded Iris have been relegated to a corner of the garden. Iris aficionados have grown them following a rigid set of rules and have avoided using companion plants. With the discovery of Greenwood Nursery’s rebloomers Irises can share the stage with a variety of other plants to create a lot of impact in your garden. Here are a few ways that you can use Iris in the garden that have been over looked over the years.

Use Tall Bearded Iris in front of tea roses. They can hide the ugly bottom canes of the pruned roses with beautiful foliage and flowers. You can even mix them in with other types of roses that don’t need them to cover up their not so beautiful attributes.

Tall Bearded Iris look great as a back drop for furniture, rocks, and other hardscape features. Even when they are not in bloom their wonderful foliage makes a dramatic statement.

Add Bearded Irises to your Mediterranean garden palette. They can acclimate to the same water and sun requirements as lavender, rosemary and citrus.

Try some Bearded Irises in with your succulents, the foliage is a nice complement to the succulents and the blooms really add a punch to your xeriscape.

Bearded Irises can be planted with penstemons, salvias, and California poppies – go “native” with them. They will fit in well with both a native garden and along a dry creek bed. I love to tuck them in around rock groupings, they look great with and with out flowers popping from between the “crags”.

Create a French Cottage look, placing Iris, Day Lily and Limonium in front of some beautiful climbing roses. In front of a wall or on a trellis they will be sure to capture the eye of all those wandering through your garden.

You can visit Greenwood on the web at: Greenwood Day Lily Gardens

For more information see my website www.thegrassisalwaysgreener.net

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