National Bird Day, Everyday.

 

Our native Texas Birds come in a rainbow of awesome!

Our native Texas Birds come in a rainbow of awesome!

National Bird Day was January 5th. A holiday dedicated to bird watching, bird adoptions, and protecting threatened bird species.  We may be a couple days late but we here at Seedlings Gardenings wanted to discuss a few reasons why Birds play an elemental and positive role in your garden and your life, year round.

  • Birds are a better source of pest control than most companies I have seen, and they won’t involve harmful pesticides. Many insects from aphids, spiders and mosquitoes, to caterpillars and snails are on the menu for our avian friends.
  • They are efficient pollinators. Nectar-sippers such as Hummingbirds and Orioles flock to vibrant flower garden blooms, helping give an extra boost to your blossoms, which in turn creates more blossoms which equates to more bird visits.
  •  Our avian friends are weed fighters. Finches, towhees, and sparrows consume mass quantities of seeds, mostly those of weeds, helping prevent germination of unwanted plants. In turn, planting seed-producing flowers for your feathered friends gives them a natural food source that encourages visits, without extra visits to the grocery or pet stores.
  • They are also helpful decorators. producing bird-friendly landscapes typically make use of native plants that are drought tolerant, therefore cutting costs on both your wallet, and our water table. These plants are also more capable of withstanding our zone’s harsher weather, such as freezes, and rain-less months. This landscape in turn can mean higher property values for the homeowner. Well-maintained, native appropriate landscaping that attracts birds and butterflies has typically a better curb appeal, and shows a good investment in home sales.
  • But most importantly, and in keeping with National Bird Day, observing backyard birds can give the homeowner and their family a unique opportunity to study their local wildlife, with events such as migration, seasonal plumage changes, courtship behaviour, nesting, and parental roles. In our continually diminishing wildlife habitats, introducing private backyard sanctuaries provides a critical preserve for local species, and migrating visitors.
From pest and weed control, to prettier environments and higher valued homes, Birds are a heavy-weight contributor to an all around healthier home.
-Heather Coffey

Now What to do With That Tree?

Have a pet lion? They will gladly snuggle your old tree?

Have a pet lion? They will gladly snuggle your old tree!

The holidays were lovely, everyone exchanged presents, we all ate too much and napped in front of the TV, but it’s time to clean up all the shredded paper and decide how to handle the holiday mess. That festive tree is still looming in the corner, quietly dropping needles that you’ll find for months. You should sort that out.

There are a variety of options. Pay attention.

Obviously, recycling is the best idea.

Strip your tree of ornaments, tinsel, all that, and let the city have its way. Simple and efficient. But if you’d like to do something more creative, keep reading.

1. Insulation!

Strip the tree of live limbs. You’re going to want to place those limbs on the

ground around the plants that require ground cover for the cold months. This really isn’t that

necessary in most of Texas as the majority of the state doesn’t get cold enough for the ground to

freeze. But you can use the boughs as a makeshift insulation cover for gardens if needed.

 

2.Bird Sanctuary!

Move the tree, with the stand, out to your yard. If you’re the type

that’s concerned about aesthetics and what the Johnsons will think, use your backyard. Once out

there, attach any birdhouses you have lying about and/or hang bits of cardboard or wood smeared

with suet, a type of animal fat that the internet tells me is available at most grocery stores. You’ll

have happy, warm birds and your cat will sit in the window doing that weird cat noise they do

when they see birds.

 

3.Erosion Prevention!

Erosion is an increasingly devastating issue, particularly along the coast lands in East

Texas. Louisiana has in the past set up several programs to combat this problem. Tragically, these

organizations have lost funding in recent years but the idea is sound and worth looking

into.

4. Fish Sanctuary!

Sinking your tree (tinsel and ornaments removed) into a private pond or lake creates a watery

haven for your fishy friends. Plus, I think that’s just a really eerie visual image.

5. Hiking Trails!

In a similar vein,many parks and hiking trails will take old trees to use as path barriers, or mulch them to keep their

trails maintained.

6. Plant It?

Finally, if you’re the type to have a tree every year, it may be a wise investment to get a

rooted tree this year. It will typically come bagged, generally burlap, and you can use it normally

for the holidays then plant it in your yard. Most Christmas trees generally do well in mild

climates, so summer may result in dropped needles and, to be honest, occasional death of the tree.

However there are plenty of indigenous evergreens that can survive in Texas.

It’s an excellent choice to save money and reduce your holiday trash.

 

More information about this can be found all over the place, but

Real Christmas Tree is an incredibly comprehensive and helpful site. For this one

very specific topic. Don’t go looking for automotive tips or anything there.

-Thomas North

A Christmas Tree Year Round!

Living Christmas!

Living Christmas!

Christmas is not so secretly one of my favorite holidays, and one of the main reasons for this is sitting in a pot on my piano bench right now.

My Christmas Tree!

The tradition of the Christmas Tree was first recorded as a budding tradition in early modern Germany. It came to England with George III’s wife, and later was embraced nation-wide after Queen Victoria, and Prince Albert made it a main stay in their celebrations in 1841.

The tradition jumped the Atlantic Ocean, following the publication of Godey’s Lady’s Book and by the 1870’s putting up a Christmas Tree was common in America.

Very few things are as compelling to me as the smell of pine, immediately evoking a freshness, cold air, and an almost quiet sacredness, like an old growth forest. Snow-covered mountains, sleds, woodland creatures, and more.
But living as we do in Zone 8-9 and 1/2, snow-covered forest glens seem far and few between. However, our rocky hill country yields many options for that Old Tannenbaum feel that you can experience year round.

Leyland and Arizona Cypresses, Junipers, Afghan Pines, and Italian Stone Pines can fit the bill and each have a unique feel and fun history.

In 1888, six seedlings of a hybrid of Monterey Cypress, and Alaskan Cedar were discovered at Leighton Hall in the South Of Wales. The trees were growing on the estate, and crossbred purely by accident, a feat rare for conifers.
Propagated root cuttings only, The Leyland Cypress is a sterile hybrid. Because it does not find itself in the Pine or Fir family, it does not produce sap, thereby making it the ideal Christmas Tree for those with an allergy. Found at tree farms, it is highly sought after as a wind break, and ornamental tree.

Arizona Cypress is a native Texan via Big Bend National Park. Compact, drought-tolerant, and fast-growing, it is highly prized also as a specimen tree, and a dense wind break on the Plains, and with it’s adaptability to different soil situations, and love of full sun, Arizona Cypress is a delight. it is listed as a popular choice on the local organization, TreeFolks free sapling program. It even helps control erosion in dry areas. A perfect Christmas Tree for the Southwest.

Junipers, coniferous trees in the Cypress family, Cypressaceae, have a multitude of uses, beyond an excellent front yard Christmas tree. The Dutch word for juniper is genever, which is the source of gin’s name, the berries being a major ingredient in the flavor. It is also used as a spice in many culinary dishes.

There are many different types of junipers, with vastly different cultural uses. Some are used in landscaping; some as bonsai. Some given the common name of cedar, are the true source of the red cedar found in cedar chests. Some types, the tar or sap are used as a ceramic decorator, and as tooth care. Some indigenous people have recommended it’s use for treating diabetes, as a female contraceptive, and to treat asthma, sciatica, and even to hasten childbirth. It is even used to cleanse homes from bad spirits as a smudging device.

Afghan Pines, or The Lonestar Christmas Tree, has another name, Eldarica Pine. First discovered in the Middle East some 2500 years ago, it in 500 BC Persia was a highly prized, and forbidden forest provider, called “The Tree Of Royalty”.

First introduced to the United States in 1961 from Afghanistan, it now thrives in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. It retains it’s Christmas Tree shape it’s entire life with out pruning, looks much like a Scotch Pine, and is an excellent container plant. It provides much shade, while requiring low amounts of water. If you are looking to have a forest in the middle of a desert, Afghan Pine may be your answer.

Italian Stone Pines, a popular table-top Christmas Tree, an apartment-dwellers favorite, has gained the award of The Royal Horticultural Society”s Award of Garden Merit. Perfectly suited to our Zone 9 climate, this little Mediterranean gem has a range from North Africa to New South Wales. It’s edible pine nuts have kept this tree cultivated since prehistoric times. Also known as the parasol, or umbrella pine, it has widespread cultivation as a popular ornamental tree.

So how does one keep that Christmas vibe all year long?

As with any forest, it begins with a single tree. To insure a tree’s long life, proper planting is essential.

  • First, when choosing a location, survey the area. Is there enough sun, or even indirect light?
  • Depending on how big the tree is supposed to grow, make sure there is enough room around the proposed base, the roots will stretch as wide as the tree grows tall.
  • When digging your hole, make sure it is two to three times the size of the root ball.
  • After placing, add a little compost in with the soil.
  • Water your new tree really thoroughly.
  • Follow with some foliar feed, spraying the leaves as well, hence the name.
  • Voila, your forest beginnings!

Each of these trees mentioned are perfect for three reasons.

  1. They are all suited to our climate, Zone 8-9 1/2. Drought tolerant, heat. Less water.
  2. They each are perfect for a momentary partner in the Christmas celebration, embodying all of the ideals.
  3. For the Purposes of Conservation, a new tree that requires little water and has maximum effect helps with erosion, heating and cooling, and our very emotional state in general.

So for those of you desiring that forest glen, that cabin hidden in the woods, that Narnia feel, these options will help take you from rocky hill country, to a Christmas Rocky Mountain High.

-written by Heather Coffey

Poinsettia, More Than Just a Pretty Face.

National Poinsettia Day is December 12th!

National Poinsettia Day is December 12th!

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, each holiday usually has a classic cultural symbol,one image that immediately puts the viewer in that holiday’s thrall. Besides the classic evergreen Christmas Tree, Poinsettias have become a go-to for Christmas Cheer.

However, this member of the diverse Spurge Family,indigenous to Mexico and Central America, is more than just a pretty shrub,or tree, (it can grow from 2-13ft.tall).

The Aztecs called it Cuetlaxochitl, or the Flower that Grows in Residue or Soil. Montezuma, the last of the Aztec Kings,would have poinsettias caravaned up into Mexico City, because they wouldn’t grow easily in the higher altitude. The Aztecs also used the leaves as a red dye, and a fever reducer, or antipyretic. In Spain, Guatemala, Puerto Rico,and other countries in Central America, it is called Flor De Pascua, or Pascua, Easter Flower. In Chile and Peru, it is known as the Flower Of The Andes. Even in far away Turkey, Ataturk,the Founder of the Republic, liked this plant immensely, and made a significant contribution to it’s cultivation across Turkey’s countryside.

In modern day Mexico, it is called Flor De Noche Buena, The Christmas Eve Flower. Significant to Catholic culture, the star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star Of Bethlehem, and the red color to symbolize the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Christ. It has also been cultivated in Egypt since the 1860’s, when it was brought over from Mexico, during the Egypt Campaign. It bears the name Bent El Consul, The Consul’s Daughter”, named for the US Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinset, the flowers namesake, and the person credited responsible for introducing the plant to the United States around 1828.

The United States has designated every December 12th as Poinsettia Day.

Poinsettias have colored bracts, often mistaken for flower petals, but they are actually leaves. The colors of the bracts are created by photoperiodism, meaning they require complete darkness for up to 12 hours a day,and gentle morning sun the other twelve. This works in our favor. For a Texan Zone 8-91/2, we can cultivate,and cause the plant to re-flower with a few judicious steps:

  • After the holiday season, prune it’s colorful bracts, giving it minimal water and moderate indoor light.
  • After the last chance of frost has passed, move it outdoors, remember to keep it in well-drained soil, and place it in the shade.
  • Gradually relocate it to a morning sun position as Summer approaches.
  • In Fall, before the first frost, move it back indoors, keeping it in total darkness for thirteen hours, and nighttime temperatures no lower than the low 60’s.
  • The rest of the time, give it as much sun as possible.
  • Poinsettias need about two months of uninterrupted dark nights, followed by bright sunny days to encourage the colorful bracts to change into their vivid displays.
  • Avoid all incidental light, and allow moisture to drain out, overly moist soil is the killer of most new plants.

With these easy steps, a Texas gardener can keep this international cultural icon thriving and bodacious.

Good Luck, Gardeners!

-Heather Coffey

Rosemary, The Awesome Blossom

The Awesome Blossom

The Awesome Blossom

Assuming this impending winter is remotely like the previous one, it will last forever and surely kill us all. And unless you are a complete recluse in a hermetically sealed chamber, you will catch a cold, and it will ruin you. Obviously, there are no guaranteed methods to avoid this dire fate, but there are a few relatively simple steps you can take to boost your immune system and lower the chance of catching bugs. One often overlooked tool in this battle to protect you and your germ­ridden family is the herb Rosemary. A favorite of mine, somewhat due to its versatility and mostly due to the fact that it requires very little attention, this aromatic herb has many uses beyond the kitchen.

Before I get into the serious bit, I just want to bring to everyone’s attention the fact some varieties of this herb have, to my juvenile mind, hilarious names. Some are vaguely pornographic (Miss Jessop’s Upright), others sound like the heroes of romance novels (Lockwood de Forest), some you’ll swear are code for drugs (Gold Dust, Benenden Blue, Wilma’s Gold, several others) and one, my favorite, sounds like your local accountant (Ken Taylor). Anyway, the plant itself is remarkably hardy, equally able to live in a garden or on your windowsill. It can also be trimmed into a topiary, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into. It originated in the Mediterranean but can adapt to most temperatures though, like most plants, is a bit of a wuss when it freezes. Mildly interesting trivia: legend says the Virgin Mary put her blue jacket on a bush with white flowers and turned them blue. Thus, Rose of Mary. Seems like this sort of thing just happened all the time back then.

Historically, rosemary was made into a somewhat hilariously named concoction called “Hungary Water”, often mixed with brandy and supposedly was used to treat memory loss and, like every other old timey medicine, gout. Other ailments it has been said to assist with include aching joints, indigestion, and poor circulation issues, often times simply with a topical use of the oils. A modern spin on this is the tincture. Generally made with alcohol as well, although it can also be made with no ­alcohol too (for people who don’t like to party). Depending on the composition and intention, tinctures can be used topically or via ingestion, and are used for a wide variety of medical issues.

Recent studies have also indicated that Rosemary may actually have healing properties beyond these. Cellular research shows the possibility of preventing or even retarding the effects of Alzheimer’s , and that’s pretty damned amazing, I think. Oh, and cancer. That’s a big one too. Less deadly, but still important, Rosemary has also been shown to improve memory, enhance mood, relieve stress and taste delicious on steaks and potatoes. That last bit is a conclusion I’ve reached through my own personal and extensive testing.

-Tom North