Houseplants That Make the Grade
- From Al's Experts
As we prepare to head back to school this fall, let’s take a look at ideal plants for the student life.
We’ll grade our favorites, and give you some ideas of how to incorporate a little bit of home into your living situation.
Tillandsia –- A+
Not just because they are all the rage, but because they take so little care, we put Tillandsia on our “Must Have” list of plants for college students. They come in many colors and shapes, and other than a little dunk once a week, they require little else to survive in your dorm room.
Succulents -- A
These cuties are especially great when space is at a premium. With many unique ways to display succulents, they add a note of cool modernism to your study space. Plants are credited with increasing memory retention and concentration – what more would a student want?
ZZ Plants – B+
Blending perfectly well with both contemporary and traditional settings, the ZZ Plant is stylish, attractive and easy to take care of. It can take a reasonable amount of neglect without adverse effects and appears impervious to the majority of pests, so what's not to love? The new stems emerge out of the soil and quickly get taller before opening up, just like a cocoon. Inside are all the new glossy leaves this shoot will produce, which will gradually emerge and fan out.
Snake Plant-- B
The Snake plant is a carefree, tough succulent that grows almost anywhere. Its leathery sword-shape leaves are usually marbled. Although snake plant tolerates low light, it grows better in medium or bright light. Because it likes the soil to dry out between waterings, it’s perfect for a busy student.
With just a little thought given to presentation, these plants can add a little green to any small living space.
Butterflies Love Buddleia
- From Al's Experts
Here are some sure fire ways to attract our winged friends, the butterfly, to your garden.
Butterflies like to perch on larger flower heads when they hunt nectar, collecting pollen on their legs and body as they search for food. The legs and the butterfly's proboscis are longer and farther away from the flower's pollen so less pollen collects on its body parts than it does on bees, but still they are very effective pollinators.
Butterflies pollinate during the day while flowers are open and they have a better color perception than bees or even humans. They can see red, their favorite color, while bees cannot. They also find their nectar by being able to see ultraviolet light which makes flower markings very distinct to them.
Buddleia is a fast-growing, deciduous shrub with long, arching shoots that can reach heights of 6-8 feet. Its massive blossoms are long, seductively spiked trusses that bloom from summer to autumn and fill the air with a fruity scent. This plant is vigorous and undemanding given a sunny location and average soil conditions.
Lavender is a commonly grown herb plant popular for its fragrant aroma, which butterflies equally enjoy. This easy-care plant enjoys hot, dry conditions, making it suitable for use in a variety of landscape settings and an excellent water-wise choice. Lavender requires less water after it is established (approx. 1 year).
Although lavender can tolerate a variety of growing conditions, this plant thrives best under warm, sunny conditions in well-drained soil. In addition, a soil rich in organic matter can encourage higher plant oil production, enhancing the fragrance in lavender plants.
Black Eyed Susan
The black eyed Susan flower attracts butterflies, bees and other pollinators to the garden. A member of the daisy family, the black eyed Susan flower is a versatile, heat and drought tolerant choice that should be included in many landscapes.
Black eyed Susan plants grow all summer long, providing perky yellow flowers and velvety foliage, and they requiring little care from the gardener. As with many wildflowers, growing black eyed Susan’s is simple and rewarding when blooms brighten the garden, natural area or meadow from mid to late summer.
Deadheading encourages more blooms and a sturdier, more compact plant. Seeds may be allowed to dry on the stem for reseeding or collected and dried for replanting in other areas.
Lavatera is a lovely flower that blooms in late summer and into fall. It is a bushy perennial with stout stems growing to 4 feet. Soft green, fingered leaves and 5-petaled flowers area easy to care for and will attract butterflies to your garden.
So if it’s butterflies you want, add some Buddleia or Lavender to your garden, and enjoy the benefits of these industrious and beautiful pollinators.
Passionate for Paniculata!
- From Al's Experts
The Hydrangea paniculata is one of the most unique compact flowering trees, and perfect for large pots and small spaces. While we most often see them as a shrub, once pruned into tree form they are spectacular! Paniculatas have large, showy cone-shaped flowers and bloom the entire summer!
The paniculata species can take full to part sun. All grow to about six to ten feet tall and will bloom from July through first frost. Like all hydrangeas, they also make an excellent dried flower and can be used in arrangements indoors.
Huge creamy white blooms that will turn light pink and green color in August.
Hydrangea Pinky Winky
Large white cone shaped flowers turning to white/pink later in the season.
Beautiful light green flowers look great all summer long.
If your garden has more shade than sun, the following small trees are an excellent choice. Structure, unique shape and foliage make them equally interesting.
Dappled Willow Tree
Photo credit: Monrovia
Dwarf type Japanese Maples will give you some beautiful structure and very attractive foliage. These slow growers are perfect for a large pot to create a point of interest for your patio or deck.
Crimson Queen Maple
Stunning crimson color all summer with a graceful weeping habit. This belongs in a place of honor in your yard.
Dappled Willow Tree
A compact willow tree that leafs out with green foliage that turning vibrant pink and white. One of our personal favorites, it is absolutely stunning when gracing either side of your entryway.
As always make sure all pots have a hole in the bottom for good drainage. We recommend using a porous drywall tape or screen over the hole to ensure it doesn't get clogged. Watering is critical for potted plants so make sure if you go to the coast for a week in the summer your pots still get watered.
B is for Blueberries!
- From Al's Experts
July is Blueberry Month! So whether you like your blueberries in jams smeared on buttered toast, or baked into muffins, here are a few varieties we believe are the best.
The Berkeley blueberry is known for being a dessert quality berry. Because it is an excellent producer and does well in the freezer, you might want to make some room.
Bluecrop is an all-around great berry. It’s good for fresh eating, preserving, baking or freezing. You can’t go wrong with jams and jellies made from Bluecrop.
The world’s largest blueberry! We think the Chandler is best fresh as a dessert with fresh whipped cream and a sprig of mint.
The Duke has a full, rich flavor, so it is favored for baking and for eating fresh. Check out this New York Times blueberry pie recipe, and give it a go!
Early to bloom and first to ripen the Earliblue does just what its name suggests. Try these blueberries in your morning smoothie, for a great way to start your day.
Fresh Blueberry Pie
- Garden Recipes
Recipe adapted from The New York Times
There is nothing like a fresh blueberry pie to let you know it’s summer. It’s even better when the blueberries come from your own backyard.
For the crust
- 2 ½ ups of all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon of kosher salt
- 1 ¼ cups of unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
- 8-10 tablespoons of ice water
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
For the filling
- 8 cups of blueberries
- ½ cup of white sugar
- 2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 2-3 tablespoons of arrowroot flour or cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Make the pie crust.
Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl or food processor. Add the butter, and mix the flour with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal or pulse the processor a few times to achieve a similar result. Gradually and lightly mix the ice water, a few tablespoons at a time, until the dough just comes together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and gather into a ball. Divide the ball into 2 equal portions, and flatten each into a disc with the heel of your hand. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
Prebake the pie shell.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out one of the discs of dough on a lightly floured surface, and fit into a 9 inch pie plate. Trim the dough so that there a slight overhang at the top of the pie plate, then place the shell in the freezer for 20 minutes or so to chill. Remove the pie shell from the freezer, cover the dough with parchment paper and fill the shell with pie weights or dried beans. Place the shell into the oven and bake until the bottom has just started to brown, approx. 20 to 25 minutes. Take the pie shell out of the oven, remove the parchment and pie weights and allow to cool.
Make the filling.
Separate 1 cup of blueberries and combine them in a bowl or a food processor or blender with sugar, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of arrowroot flour or cornstarch and the salt, the pulse to puree. Put the blueberry mixture into a small pot set over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the liquid has just thickened, approximately 1 minute. Pour the thickened mixture over the remaining blueberries, and stir to combine.
Bake the pie.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mound the filling high in the center of the cooled pie shell, and apply the egg wash to the top edge of the cooked bottom crust. Roll out the second disc of dough, and place over the top, gently crimping it onto the egg-washed edge of the bottom crust. Place the pie into the freezer to set, approximately 20 minutes, then cut vents into the top with a sharp knife, place the pie on the baking sheet and set it into the oven to bake for approximately 30 minutes. Then turn the pie, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake until the pie is golden brown and the filling has begun to bubble up through the vents, another 25 to 45 minutes. Allow the ice to cool to room temperature before cutting.