Keep your garden cheerful in winter with silk flowers.

Brighten the dull season and add more cheer.

Lets face it winter can be pretty bleak. It’s cold, there are no leaves on the trees the plants are not growing. Garden cleanup is as finished as it can be with cold weather upon you. But looking out the window can be depressing. All those lovely flowers have gone.
Well they don’t need to be.
Every summer I have a lovely patio area outside my kitchen window that is bursting with blooms it’s a delight to look at. In winter not so much, its bleak and cold. So fix it.
Adding a few pots of silk flowers can really cheer up the area. Now every time you look out the window there is something bright to look at it brightens up the winter months until spring brings the green back to the world.

Patio area in winter looks dull, depressing and uninviting
Patio area in winter looks dull, depressing and uninviting

The great thing about it is that its easy to do and not very expensive.

All you need is.

  • Empty plant pots. Keeping the ones you got the plants in from the garden center or big box store is always a bonus.
  • Some stones from your garden. Hey who doesn’t have those. Now you actually have a use for them!
  • Some silk flowers. Get them in the dollar store. Its not necessary to use expensive ones just something bright.
  • A can of ‘Great stuff’.Optional- some wire to put through the bottoms of the pots.
  • The wire option can be very useful if you are intending to put the pots onto wire shelving or somewhere else they may fall off easily and could be wired into place.


1. Buy a bunch of silk flowers from the dollar store. The ones that come in mixed bunches on the same stem are the best option as they need less work. However they are not always as easy to come by these days. Whatever have great time choosing as many silk flowers are you like. Its best to pick a few more than you think you will need as its much better to have too many that not enough.
Suggestion. Don’t pick Christmas flowers. It’s tempting just after Christmas to pick all the cheaper Christmas stuff but these flowers are going to be out there until spring. It may look great in December but it looks dated by March. A little holly and maybe one or two poinsettias is OK but for the most part pick spring and summer flowers. You will be happier in the long run.

Can of "great stuff"
Can of “great stuff”

2. Buy a can of ‘Great stuff” See if you can determine just how much you will need for the number of pots and buy a can the right size. Great stuff IS great BUT once you start using a can of it you have to use it all in one go. You cant leave some for later. Once started it works fine but left it sets in the can and is of no further use. So you don’t want to use half a large can when a full small can will do.

Plastic flower pot saved from earlier potting out
Plastic flower pot saved from earlier potting out

3. Sort out some old plastic pots to use. The plastic pots that your last purchase from the garden center or big box store came in is perfect. Use only plastic pots NOT ceramic. They have to stand up to the cold and fluctuating temperatures. Plastic will do this fine. Ceramic will crack over time. They are also more expensive and you don’t want to waste them.
Pick pots that are not too big, unless you intend to do a large planter. Smaller pots are easier to work with and to fill with silk flowers. Pots need to be full of flowers to do their job properly so smaller pots are better. I used 5” (12 cm) pots.

4. Go find some stones. Stones are essential to keep the pots anchored. Pots need to be heavy if left outside or they will blow away in the wind. The heavier you can make a pot the better. So go out and collect as many larger stones as possible. Some people collect up stones from their garden and put them in a pile. Now that pile is finally useful. If not then a scavenger hunt around the garden will be in order. Use larger stones Make sure that they cannot escape through the holes at the bottom of the plastic pots. If stones are that small discard them.
DO NOT use soil! It’s tempting but the great stuff will not bind the soil together and it will leak out the holes at that bottom of the pot as it dries out. Pots can leak soil for years. Trust me I made this mistake with my first set of pots. Don’t make my mistake leave the soil on the ground and use stones.

For those in warmer areas, or if you have had time to plan in advance. You can use concrete to do this job. However if you left it too late and its cold the concrete will not set. Also it’s harder to keep the flowers in the correct upright position until the concrete sets. Thus “great stuff” is the best fast option.

5. Divide up your silk flowers. Decide which flowers are going into each pot and divide them up. If you are intending to do a large planter then it would be best to determine how the flowers will be placed before you begin. Plan out which flowers go where. There will not be much time to change your mind when you start working so figuring out your layout beforehand is essential.

6. Wire. If you are going to put your pots onto wire shelving or in an area where the pots may easily be knocked off then using wire at the base to keep them in position is a good plan. Use a thicker gauge wire. That found in wire coat hangers is ideal. If you have wire ones from the dry clearers perfect (another good way to recycle and reuse). If not buy as spool of similar gauge wire from your local hardware store.


1. OPTIONAL. If using wire cut the wire into lengths depending on the width of the pot and how much you need to wire it down. Usually a 24-36” long piece is ideal. If using a coat hanger cut the looped piece off the top of the hanger and flatten it out.
Thread the wire through two holes along the bottom of the pot. In one side out the other. Make sure that the pot is centered on the wire.

flower pot with stones in it
Fill pot to 3/4 with stones

2. Fill all the pots with stones to about ¾ of the way to the top of the pot. Shake the pots or tap them on the work surface to ensure that the stones are settled well in the pots you don’t want them shifting later.

3. Lay out your flowers ready for each pot. Know exactly what you are going to put where. Check that they will fit where you want them in the pot of stones and cut down the wire stems if necessary.

4. Get your can of “Great stuff” put the thin nozzle on the end and get the can ready to go. If you have not used this stuff before be aware that it will foam up and expand a lot once its in the air so take is slow when using it until you get the hang of it.

5. Stick the nozzle down amongst the stones and gently press the top. The idea is to get the great stuff to stick the stones together. Work it in from several angles using just a little. Once the stones are in place add a little more on the top to fill the pot up almost to the surface.

silk flowers in pot with great stuff
Great stuff fills the pot and hardens quickly around silk flower stalks.

6. Quickly place your silk flowers in the pot and hold them in place. Great stuff sets fast so you will only have moments to do this arrange the flowers as you want them to appear. Remember you can always bend the stems around once they are set in place.

7. Move on to the next pot and repeat the process until you have finished all the pots. Work each pot from start to finish as you wont have long before the “great stuff” sets.  Don’t take too long on each pot or the great stuff can stick in the can and become useless.

8. Once all the pots have set you can bend the flowers around to cover the great stuff in the pots and make the flowers look their best.

9. Place pots around your garden outside your windows where you can see them when you look out and brighten your winter.

Patio decorated with silk flowers looks much more cheerful for winter months. These pots are wired in place or the blow off in strong winds.

When spring comes pots can be taken in and stored until next winter. Once created these silk flower pots will last for years. My first set lasted me ten years before they finally broke apart and had to be replaced.


1. Don’t put pots under downspouts or other areas where lots of water will runoff the roof. The water tends to drop on the plants and freeze then you get silk flowers encased in ice. They don’t last as long this way.

2. If pots are placed in a precarious position or on shelving wiring them down can be an excellent idea. Strong winter winds can lift up pots that you thought were heavy enough and blow them away. Its not fun having to chase them around in the dead of winter. Also if you have pets that might knock them off wiring down might be prudent.

3. If you choose to make a large planter remember first that this is permanent. Once the great stuff is in there you can’t take it out so don’t use a favored planter that you want to use again in summer. If you do want to use a favored planter then choose a separate pot that is just a little smaller and put your display in that, then drop it in the planter. It can then be taken out in spring and replaced until next winter.

4. If using a large planter not as many stones will be necessary. If you fill it with stone you won’t be able to pick it up and move it later. However still don’t use soil as the great stuff will not bind to it and it can cause the display to break up.
A good way to fill a planter is to use layers of polystyrene packing chips or chucks of polystyrene packing that came you’re your last purchase. If doing this test the “great stuff” on your chosen material before you start some products will react with it and may dissolve. DON’T use starch packing chips they will certainly dissolve.
Mix the material with stones and bind it together with the great stuff. Work in layers until you reach the top of the planter. Make sure you use enough stones to give the planter enough weight that it wont be blown over by strong winds but still light enough for you to carry around.
Make sure you experiment with the flowers and decide how you want them arranged in the planter before using the great stuff. You won’t have a lot of time to work once it’s out of the can before it sets.

Let your artistic side roam free and create some bright interest for your garden this winter.

Don’t throw out that Poinsettia

It’s a great all round house and pot plant.

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are ‘THE’ plant for the holiday season. Their bright red, pink or white flowers bring color and cheer to the home. Some Poinsettias can be huge and give a lot of ‘bang for the buck’ The make great centerpieces, table decorations or even placed on the floor. However after the holiday season is over most Poinsettias end up in the garbage bin. This is a very sad end to such a wonderful plant.

To begin with if you buy a good poinsettia from a reliable source then the color in the plant can last all the way through winter. Don’t throw it away if its still adding color and brightness to your home. If cared for Poinsettias can last for years and years as house plants and be placed outside during the summer months. They make wonderful green plants and are very easy to care for.

Choose your source wisely.  Many garden centers have wonderful poinsettias during the holiday season and they are usually well cared for.  Plants offered at supermarkets, big box stores or roadside stands often have poorer quality plants or ones that have not been cared for properly.

Portion of the Poinsettia trials at Rutgers University.
Portion of the Poinsettia trials at Rutgers University.

Poinsettias are semi tropical plants. They grow well outdoors in places like southern Florida and Hawaii. They don’t like the cold. IF a poinsettia gets cold, even for a short time it will suffer and it wont last well. This is why it is extremely important to make sure you buy from a good source. One that has ensured that the plants are well cared for, that they are kept warm and don’t get any sudden cold shocks.
With big box stores plants are often loaded onto rolling carts (we have all seen them) then maybe left on the loading dock or the unheated stockroom for hours before they are brought in and placed on display. These plants can loose their leaves quite fast and will not last during past the holiday season if they last that long.

When purchasing make sure that the plant you choose is not located near a entranceway where it will be subjected to cold breezes when the doors open and close. This can be detrimental to the plant.

If you do want to keep your plant alive and well, picking one that has been dyed blue or covered in glitter is not a good choice. These poor plants are already subjected to a lot of stress. Glitter is going to badly affect the way the plant can make food and energy. It might look good but its not good for the plant.

Once you have your plant get it home quickly. If it’s cold make sure the plant is wrapped in a bag to protect it on its journey to the car. Don’t leave it in an unheated car for any length of time.

Luscious Pink Poinsettia
Luscious Pink Poinsettia. Part of the Rutgers Trials.

For short periods of them during the holiday season Poinsettias can be placed anywhere. However if they are close to outside doors where they will be subjected to drafts they will not survive as well as ones that have a warm location.

After the holidays are over move your plant to a more sunny location away from cold drafts. Keep it moist but not wet at all times. Feed it once a week. That’s it. Most plants will keep their red leaves for quite a long period, usually at least two months. I have had some that did not drop their red leaves until spring.

When summer comes the plants can be placed outside in a sunny location. Keep watered and they will reward you with lush green foliage. They make wonderful deck plants. Poinsettias can be cut back to keep them busy. However don’t cut the plant back all at one time as it can shock the plant too much. When cutting plants make sure you wear gloves, thin plastic ones are suggested. Poinsettias exude a sticky latex that some people find causes skin irritation. Bring the pots back into the house for the winter season.

Don’t eat poinsettias or let pets chew on them, the latex can be poisonous.

Portion of the Poinsettia trial at Rutgers University
Portion of the Poinsettia trial at Rutgers University

The red ‘flowers’ are of course not really flowers but red leaves or ‘bracts’ the flowers are those little insignificant yellow things in the center. Poinsettias need a specific light/dark cycle before they will flower. It s long days and short nights, which of course is not what we get at Christmas. So don’t expect your Poinsettia to flower next Christmas, it wont. Its going to flower in the summer. Most likely not until the second year you had it since it was forced to flower out of season for the first year. If you have ever driven past a greenhouse all lit up at night before Christmas, this is why. They have to extend the daylight hours to get those Poinsettias to flower for Christmas. Its not natural but its what we want. So unless you can sneak your plant into the greenhouse or put a lamp on it before the holiday season enjoy its flowers in the summer and appreciate its lush green leaves in the winter months..

Its Early December. What’s still flowering?

Some still bloom while most are bedded down for the winter.

The weather is still unpredictable here in New Jersey. One day its 45°F the next its 60°F and raining. Yesterday I took a walk around the fields to see what was still flowering, not a lot its true but there are still a few hangers on.

Tansy flowering in December
Tansy flowering in December

The most obvious is the Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare). Its bright yellow flowers are still standing proud on many of the shrubs. Not as many as it could because most of it has been harvested, but there are still some bright yellow spots around the field which can be seen from a considerable distance away. To these cling the few remaining small pollinators that are still tough and courageous – or perhaps desperate – enough to be out flying.

Siberian Motherwort flowers in December
Siberian Motherwort flowers in December

The other big flowerer is the Siberian Motherwort (Leonurus sibiricus). Its tall stems are still festooned with flowers that are attracting pollinators. While its not easy to see the flowers until close to the plant the flowers are there in large numbers. This plant is scattered around the fields and in some places its still producing seedlings that are making buds and trying to flower. It’s a tough plant and does not die down until a strong killing frost. Although a few that were located right in the middle of the open field have wilted quite a bit in the biting winds we have endured over the last week. The ones out of the main wind blasts are doing fine.

December RoseFinally the knockout rose bushes are still blooming. Its hard to find a tougher rose than the knockout and even though its not a true herb its such a beautiful flowering plant and its so tough its hard not to find a corner for at least one bush. We have several in our formal lavender garden and they flower from mid spring right up until killing frosts. Plant one where you can see it from your most used window, it will brighten your day.

Choosing some plants that will flower very late into the year and hold out against the milder frosts can be very important to a garden. It helps and insects that need late nectar and it give you some bright flowering spots in an otherwise gloomy and winter garden. Tansy and Siberian motherwort and tough little cookies and certainly worth a spot in any garden to hold off a little longer the coming of winter.

Take Care with the use of Chemicals

You might be killing your crops.

Small ripening fig fruit.
Small ripening fig fruit. Photo courtesy of

I volunteer at our local master gardener hotline, it’s a way to help others with garden problems and it keeps me on my toes.
Last week a couple came into the office with a problem and my partner discussed a solution with the wife the husband noticed a jar of fig cuttings that my hotline partner had brought in for me. This prompted a different question from him.

I am not getting any figs. Why not?

I explained to him that figs are only produced if the tiny fruit (actually at this point the flower) is pollinated by the fig wasp which has to burrow into the fruit to get to the ‘flower’. If you don’t have fig wasps you don’t have fruit.
Thus if you have a neighbor who is an avid sprayer for all kinds of insects without any real discretion then you are going to kill off the wasps before they get to your figs.

As I talked his head hung lower and lower and at the end he admitted that he was indeed a broadcast sprayer, killing all the insects that he found in his garden. Thus he had no figs.

This is just one example of what can happen if chemicals are used in a arbitrary manner. If you kill all insects because you think they are bad and will damage your plants you kill good insects along with the bad. You might want to kill aphids on your roses and spray everything around you ‘just in case’. If you do that, to begin with you are going to get wind drift. Even of very still days there is usually a bit of breeze which will carry the spray to some other plants. If you absolutely have to spray never do it on a breezy day.
You are also going to kill every other insect that the spray gets near, that means the ones on the ground under the plants, the ones on the neighboring plants the ones that have come in to eat the aphids that you are trying to kill and those that are just looking for a nice rest before they fly or crawl off somewhere else.

Many of these insects are your friends, just like the fig wasp. The ladybugs on your roses or the lacewings are eating the aphids not making more, you kill them then you kill your biological control.

yummy fresh figs
yummy fresh figs, thanks to the fig wasp.

I am not saying that you should never spray. There are certainly times when its necessary, but it should be done carefully on as still a day as possible and as precisely as possible. Spray only the plants that really need it because they are infested. Don’t just spray for the heck of it ‘just in case’. Keep the use of chemicals to a minimum. Your garden will love you a lot more and you will be rewarded.

Labor Day Is When You Labor On Your Lawn.

At least most years

For those of us in the northern part of the country especially in the north east the general rule is to work on your lawns in the fall. Labor day is when you labor on your lawn makes it easy to remember.

However with the ever rapidly changing climate that might not be so true anymore.

Normally here in the northeast labor day marks the ‘end’ of summer. Its not really true of course we have always had bright warm sunny days through September and October but the temperatures tend to cool down a lot. The historic averages are in the high seventies with a few minor clips up to the low eighties in the early parts of the month. Most of it tends to be cooler with a little more rain and the temperatures drop overnight giving more of a cold snap.

This is the signal to most plants that winter is approaching. The leaves on the trees begin to turn lovely shades, or for some just brown and drop off. Some trees drop early. Annual plants also know that winter is coming, they are producing their hard coated seeds and spreading them as far as they can ready for next spring. What they are not doing is germinating and growing more weeds now.

That is a great advantage to the lawn grower. Grass seed will germinate now and if done so it will have less weeds to compete with and get a head start before the winter comes.
This however all depends on lower temperatures and more rain. This year the meteorologists are predicting a warmer fall than normal which is following a time of much drier weather so everything is upset. Fall may be later, and wont be anything like as spectacular as it normally is.

Lawns are still under stress. There has been a lot less rain so many have gone somewhat dormant. Its not the time to put down new seed or do anything intensive on the lawn that will stress it more. This year Labor day is NOT the time to labor on your lawn, and it probably wont be until at least the third week in September.

For those who lavish their lawns it may be a disappointment. For those of us who just accept a lawn and do a little to help it then it means that this labor day can be used for something else. Hopefully something more enjoyable. So go have fun, labor on your lawn later.