Saving Garden Favorites

Planning for the Seed Harvest

My summer flowers are blooming their last. Most of my neighbors have rushed out to cut down the fading perennials and rip up the wilting annuals. Some are sticking fall mums into the holes, while others are putting the garden to bed for the season. Me? My garden is filled with echinacea and black-eyed susans going to seed, formerly pretty petunias and wilting snap dragons. While it may not be conductive to the pristine look my neighbors are striving for, it suits me.

Each of those dying plants holds a promise of new life next summer. I've deadheaded and thinned until only the best plants made the final cut, the privilege of dying naturally and peacefully at season's end instead of falling prey to my spade and shears. Each of those seeds hopefully contains the best qualities of their parents. And next spring, those seeds will find their way into little peat pots so they, too, can have their season to shine.


Saving seeds is easy with most annual flowers. Simply allow the flowers to wilt naturally and the seed head to swell. Once it dries on the plant, break it off and pull it open. The small seeds spill out into a waiting bowl, where you can dry them further for a week or two to ensure best storage.


Some seeds, like impatiens, while spread to the four directions before you have a chance to harvest them. I slip the toe of a stocking over each wilting flower and secure it with paperclip. The stocking catches the seeds when they spill out so they aren't lost.


Store your saved seeds in sealed glass jars. A cool pantry or dark room is good, the refrigerator is better. Most seeds remain viable for at least a year, and most will sprout even four years down the road.

Sunflower planting tips

Sunflower seed selection and ground preparation are essential.

Sunflowers are a plant that many people like to look at, but some people have never thought about how to grow. Here are three tips that people can use to help them in growing these plants properly and to the heights they want to have. Without these tips, it can be hard to grow your plants to the heights you want them to reach.

The first tip people can use is to select the proper seeds. Sunflower plants are susceptible to seed rot and even different fungal diseases. However, people can find the proper seeds that can resist these ailments in their search for sunflowers. Then they can have a higher level of germination and help the seeds grow properly. 

A second tip for people to use is to look at the different heights of the plants. Once people look at the heights, they can coordinate these with the area they plan on planting these. For example, a person can get a taller plant in the back of a field or in the middle and keep the shorter plants in front. Then they do not have to be concerned about the plants blocking each other out at any time. 
Finally when getting ready to plant the seeds, the ground should be properly prepared. By properly preparing the ground, the person can easily plant the seed in the dirt and promote healthy growth. Without the dirt being prepared, the seeds may end up laying on the ground and end up getting eaten by birds or other animals. 
Having the best garden around can be hard to do. However, if you know what to look for in the preparation for your sunflowers, it is easy for the sunflowers to grow properly and in a quick manner. 

Warding off burnout

Every caregiver needs regular breaks.

Several social work courses in college and multiple experiences have left me convinced that every instructor I had was right—well, at least about this one thing: every caregiver needs regular breaks. I don’t just mean a regular annual vacation—though that is important, too—but steady, weekly breaks. If these aren’t daily, they should be at least weekly—bi-weekly at the very least.

When you don’t give yourself a break, lots of things can happen. In some cases, the burnout may affect the patient—whether he or she is an invalid, an elderly person, or a child or adult with developmental delays. He or she will pick up on your distress, and in extreme circumstances, the caregiver may even become harsh or violent.

But in most cases, this burnout heavily wears on the caregiver. Exhaustion and depression can result. Some people may even end up needing hospitalization themselves after such a lengthy time caring for another individual so one-sidedly—whether it’s complete round the clock care or even daily living assistance. As with caring with children, caregivers must be always “on,” and living like you’re walking on eggshells every day will eventually cause you to crack.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to prevent burnout. Here are just a few of them.

Hire respite care. Many states offer such care freely, and if they don’t, you can research to see what kind of budget you’ll need. The break, however, is important, no matter the cost. Many local babysitting agencies and assisted living facilities offer trained support.

Share responsibilities. Ask friends and loved ones for help. If the caregiver is a family member, the family should not rely solely on him or her for the full caretaking of the loved one. Shifts and alternate responsibilities can be arranged. Conflict within the family is almost sure to arise if care giving is left upon only one or two individuals—and those individuals are sure to be resentful and eventually burn out if not helped as well.

Provide regular breaks. If co-care cannot be arranged, other family members should strive to provide the primary care provider with regular weekly breaks. A day may be spent on outings with another family member, or weekend overnights can be arranged.

Hire help. If you can afford it, hire a nurse or trained caregiver for part-time help, whether it’s for a few days as week or for split shifts of care. Such help can be very expensive, of course, and will depend on the family’s budget.

MOBOT announces fall class lineup

Sign up soon to get a spot!

Though I haven’t been to the Missouri Botanical Gardens in years—in fact, the last time I went I was little and it was called Shaw’s Garden—I really look forward to starting to regularly go this fall. I wish we were residents of St. Louis county so we could go for free every Wednesday, but we’re just outside the county. Still, membership beckons me—did you know that your membership there also covers the Butterfly House and Shaw Nature Reserve?—and we may just have to scrape together enough money to join, especially if I love it as much as I used to.

Todays MOBOT is much more community centered than when I was little, with a children’s garden, Chinese lantern festivals, and so many other things to do. They also host dozens of classes every year for all ages, which are fairly affordable (around $18 each for children, which is a bit out of our price range at the moment). Members also get discounts.

A good friend in our homeschooling co-op joined MOBOT with her family and she takes her kiddos there on nearly a weekly basis. I don’t think we’d be able to do that, but if we could, I’m sure it would be a wonderful adventure. MOBOT just announced their fall class lineup, and it includes gems like Full Moon Friday Hikes (the first of which is sold out already!), Caterpillars to Ladybugs programs, canopy climbing, and weekly classes children are sure to enjoy. Classes are grouped by age, so you can choose the ones that best suit your family.

Parents can also select courses to take themselves. There are all kinds of art classes—from watercolor to photography to sketching and more—as well as landscaping courses, gardening instruction, food and cooking classes, and more. The cost for these classes vary widely; check to see how much and when the ones you want are by visiting the website.

If you don’t want to sign up for classes, of course, there’s still plenty to do at the gardens. From various exhibits to concerts, signature events and members-only programs, there is really something for everyone. Recycling programs, flower sales, and many more opportunities are also available, as are special lectures featuring guest speakers and programs of interest to many gardeners. Be sure to check the MOBOT schedule to find something that’s happening on the day of your visit.

Help the honeybees

Here’s an easy how-to guide to follow.

As most of us know, if the bees are to disappear, we are likely to follow. We don’t have to sit idly by while they die out to whatever pesticides and herbicides and other poisons humans throw at them, however; we can all do our part to help keep honeybees alive and well.

One thing we can do is to argue against pesticide and herbicide use commercially, as well as to not use these chemicals on our own. These two things are probably the most important actions we can take to save bees. But there are plenty of other things we can do, too, such as…

Download the honeybee toolkit. This kit is full of great ideas to help us all save bees, whether it’s creating a haven for the bees themselves or to talk to our neighbors about helping the insects. You can get your own honeybee toolkit here.Make a bumblebee nest box. Don’t you just love projects like these? We have bird and bat boxes, as well as squirrel feeders, where we live. You can download information on how to make a bumblebee nest box here.

Plant native flowers that are helpful to bees in your yard. Flowering fruit trees, poppies, comfrey, and many other types of flowers are wonderful for spring queen bees. Heather is also wonderful for bees, as it helps protect them during surprise rain showers. Start planning now for spring seeding.

Become a beekeeper. No, you don’t have to give up your day job. You can be a backyard beekeeper as a productive and fulfilling hobby. Even if you don’t want to raise bees for honey, you can still plant plenty of attractive bee plants and make your yard a sanctuary for bees as much as you can.

Donate to save the bees. Haagen-Dazs has been working on a campaign for quite a while to help save bees. You can learn more about how to help, make a donation, or even make yourself into a bee to send to other people to help raise awareness at their website.

Educate others. Help children learn about bees and how important they are so they, too, will fight for them (and against harmful chemicals that will kill them). Engage in the above activities as a family or with your youth group, classroom, or other environment including the children and the community. Host a class about beekeeping if you know a lot about it and share your knowledge with others, or offer shoots of your own plants to friends and neighbors to use.

Water-wise garden tips

Conserving water in the high desert

Looking around town, it's easy to see we live in the high desert. Few homes sport a green lawn. The best manicured spreads feature artful rocks and hardy native cacti and succulents. This is all well and good for ornamental plantings, but what of us that grow a few vegetables or water hungry flowers in our garden? Outside of the too-short monsoon season, these plants need irrigation which isn't always possible with water restrictions.

First, our soil is sandy or rocky. Water drains right through the desert topsoil and is quickly lost. The easiest ways to remedy this is to grow in containers or raised beds. Most water-hungry plants have shallow roots that penetrate no more than 6- to 8-inches into the soil, so a short raised bed suffices. Only use rich soil to ensure it traps that water. If you aren't opposed to the chemicals, soils containing moisture holding gel crystals can further help conserve moisture.

Second, make sure you mulch! Thick layers of straw or wood bark keep that moisture in the soil so it doesn't evaporate away. In a vegetable bed you can stick a piece of plastic beneath the mulch to further prevent water loss.

Finally, water wisely. Use gray water, such as dish water or bath water, to feed flowers and ornamentals. Water in the evening or wee morning hours to minimize evaporation so the moisture can seep deep into the soil. Water slowly, don't flood the plants briefly. Also, consider drip irrigation and avoid overhead watering at all cost.

One interesting way to irrigate in our area is with buried terracotta pots, called ollas. These pots have a fat bottom and narrow opening. You bury the bottom in the bed near the plants you are watering. Fill the pot with water and it slowly seeps through the terracotta and into the soil surrounding nearby roots. They only need filled a couple of times a week and all but stop evaporation.

Benefits of urban gardening

Keeping a garden is something that thousands of people do, yet for many of us it seems so daunting. What if it doesn’t grow? What if we’ve never had green thumbs? After several years of trying and killing plenty of flora, this year I’ve had a very successful garden full of vegetables, and I have to admit that it’s one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever been involved with. It really makes you feel proud, to see all of those wonderful things growing out of the soil after you planted them.

But there are so many other things you can get from urban gardening. Even if you’ve only got a few pots to keep on your porch or windowsill, these benefits can be reaped by just about anyone, nearly anywhere. Before you rule out gardening again this year, consider these things.

  • Gardening is great exercise. You can get your heart rate going while planting, weeding, pulling, harvesting, you name it. I promise I’m not making this up; I work up such a sweat while gardening—whether it’s hot out or not!—that my glasses are often dripping. I really need to learn to keep a handkerchief with me…
  • Gardening helps you save money. Even if you’re only growing one plant of tomatoes, it could yield fruit all summer long. This year, we have not had to buy tomatoes, lettuce, or peppers because our garden has been so fruitful—and we have many other vegetables growing as well.
  • Gardening softens the landscape. Cities can be beautiful; they can also be harsh on the eyes. As mammals, we were meant to be around nature, and keeping even a few plants near us can help lift our mood and make us smile. Their scents, their pretty blossoms and bright leaves—the whole plant package is just lovely and uplifting (unless your allergies get to you!).
  • Keeping a garden makes you need to cook more, which helps you prepare homemade, nutritious meals. It also helps teach children about how things grow, and you can in turn teach kids how to wash and prepare your grown foods and herbs—a valuable skill that so many just don’t have these days but may need in the future.
  • When you garden, you don’t have to use pesticides, making your own organic crops. You can also skip the bags and plastic from the market or store, creating a greener lifestyle for yourself.

Finding sleep when you’re sick

It’s near impossible to do sometimes, but it can be done.

Maybe you injured an upper arm or your chest at work. Maybe you’ve got bronchitis or asthma and every time you lay down, you wheeze or have so much congestion you can’t breathe. Whatever the health problem, most of us have had a sleepless night or two during our lives. There are lots of tricks you can use, however, to ensure that you still get that vital rest that your body needs to heal. Here are just a few ways to do that.

Prop yourself up. Sometimes all it takes is the addition of an extra pillow or two to make you comfortable and able to lay down or breathe. Keep a couple of extra pillows on hand so you won’t be searching for them on nights like this.Use a sleep aid. A single dose of Nyquil may be what stands between you and a good night’s rest. If you have congestion, it’s still possible to sleep while breathing through one nostril or even your mouth, but it’s just hard to get to sleep that way; sleep aids can help you relax and do just that. Many people have found relief in Breathe Right strips as well.

Help yourself breathe. Maybe you need a humidifier, or simply an application of Vicks rub to your chest and back (if you’re coughing is keeping you up, did you know that applying it to your feet can actually help? It works like a charm on my daughter.). Some saline solution in the nose can be just what you need, too, especially if your nasal passages are dry and bothering you. If you have a wheezy cough, sitting in the bathroom with the shower running on hot (or even taking a hot shower) can be very soothing.

Use an expectorant. That liquid in your throat and nose has to come out! Expectorants like Mucinex can help thin and break up that mucus, allowing you to cough it up much more easily. Keep a bucket or bowl nearby so you aren’t constantly running to the bathroom.

Make yourself a nest. Ideally your rest would include lying down, but if you absolutely can’t, you can build yourself a nest out of pillows and blankets to prop yourself up. You can hug a pillow and lean forward with plenty of pillows or blankets at your back, relieving much of the pressure that would otherwise be there. It’s not the most comfortable thing in the world—and it may leave you with stiffness in the morning—but it’s better than not sleeping at all.


All about Anthruriums

Anthuriums are sometimes confused with Calla Lilies due to their similar appearance, but while Calla Lilies are native to the hot, dry plains of Africa.  Anthuriums come from the lush 

tropical forests of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. They are an epiphytic species, meaning they grew nonparasitically on another plant and drew their nutrients from the air rather than from the soil. When cultivation began in the 20th century, they were grown under tree crops like cocoa and citrus. They are prized for both their long life as a cut flower and as a houseplant. Today they are grown commercially in Florida.


Due to their tropical history, Anthuriums prefer warm conditions. Daytime temps between 78-90F and nighttime temps between 70-75F are ideal. Temps above 90F will result in scorching, fading, and a shortened lifespan of blooms. They do not like cool temperatures and will show their displeasure with yellow leaves.  Frosts or freezes will quickly kill the plant.

When potting up Anthuriums, use a coarse soil that drains well. They do not like having wet feet. The ideal medium would be an even blend of pine bark, perlite and peat moss.  Let the plant get a bit rootbound before repotting into a larger container.

Anthuriums prefer evenly moist soil but will tolerate some dryness of the rootball without any problems. Let the soil dry to about an inch down between watering, but never let the plant dry out completely. Doing so will slow down growth and lead to yellow leaf tips and damaged roots.  Leaves that quickly and suddenly go yellow are a sign of overwatering.

Give them as much bright, filtered light as possible. Direct sunlight should be avoided as it will cause the leaves to burn. While they will tolerate low light conditions, flower production may cease and new growth may be distorted.

Fertilize lightly every few months. Newly purchased plants won’t need to be fertilized for quite some time due to the slow release food most growers add before sending them to market.

Pests and Problems

Anthuriums are susceptible to common plant pests such as aphids, mealybugs and scale. Inspect plants before purchase and quarantine for a few weeks after. Inspect regularly and if any infestation is spotted or suspected, treat promptly with an insecticidal soap. Aphids can often be eradicated by simply rinsing the plant well with cool to lukewarm water under a hose or faucet. Repeat a week later to catch any eggs that may have been left behind.

They are generally disease free but may occasionally fall prey to a fungal disease called Rhizoctinia. This is usually only a problem if the plant is kept in hot, moist conditions and potted in poorly drained soil. The disease can be treated with  a fungicide formulated for houseplants.

More questions about houseplants


Q: Why do my houseplants all lean toward the window? They look lopsided and ugly!

A: They are growing toward the sunlight! This is called phototropism. To keep your plants from getting lopsided, simply rotate them a quarter turn or so every other week. This will allow them to grow evenly and look full and bushy.

Q: Do plants need a period of darkness? The ones on my desk at work get light 24 hours a day.

A: A few plants, like Christmas Cactus and Poinsettia, need a specific period of darkness in order to flower. Most other plants do just fine without any. This isn’t to say they grow even more however, so you might want to save some energy and turn off the lights at night.

Q: There is an ugly crust on some of my pots. What is it and is it harmful?

A: This is a build up of salts that results from fertilizer. It can harm your plants if any of the foliage comes in contact with it. To remove, soak the pots in warm water for 15 minutes. To prevent it from returning, be sure to water your plants thoroughly enough to allow the salts to be flushed out through the drainage holes.

Q: Can I use soil from my garden for my houseplants?

A: Yes, but I do not recommend it. Garden soil carries insects and often diseases. You are much better off with a commercial potting mix. However, if you really want to go with garden soil, you’ll have to sterilize it first. To do so, make sure it is free of twigs and rocks, and then pour into deep baking dish. Add just enough water to wet it completely, stir, and bake in a 180 degree oven for 45 minutes (warning, it will stink!). Let cool, add equal parts perlite and peat moss, and it will then be ready for your plants.

Q: Will the chlorine in my tap water hurt my plants?

A: It depends on the levels in your particular water source. If you can smell or taste the chlorine in your water, than it is likely high enough to hurt your plants. Signs of chlorine damage are brown or yellow leaf tips and root burn. To be safe, let the water used on your plants sit in a jug for a day or so to let the chlorine dissipate.

Q: We have a water softener. Can I still use my tap water on my plants?

A: No, I’m afraid not. Water is “softened” by removing minerals such as calcium and replacing them with salt. While its not enough for us to taste, its much more than what is normally found in water. These salts will kill most houseplants.