18 Oct

Growing Helianthus, the Sunflower, in Landscape and Gardens

Helianthus, commonly known as Sunflower, is a genus of lovely and prolific flowering plants. These lovely bloomers are easily grown in almost any soil and make excellent flowering plants in gardens and landscapes. Most species of Helianthus are annuals and perennials growing from 2 to 4 meters. Helianthus is typically characterized by stout, hairy and seldom branching stem. Each stem has a terminal flower head bearing showy and fairly large-sized flowers.

Helianthus annuus

Helianthus annuus/ Image by Margrit (flickr)

Because of their columnar growth, bright flowers, and easy maintenance, many species of Helianthus have become popular flowering plants in many parts of the world. These species vary in height, and size and color of the flower.

Popular garden species of Helianthus include:

Helianthus annuus or common Sunflower: This is a branching annual growing up to 3 meters. The plant is characterized by coarse leaves and large yellow flowers. The Spanish name ‘annuus’ is because of the movement of flower head along with the sun. It actually follow the sun each day, facing eastward in the morning, westward at sunset.

Helianthus tuberosus is another popular plant from this genus. Unlike its cousins, this lovely bloomer produces smaller flowers on delicate stems. The tubers are edible and are usually known as Jerusalem artichoke.

Helianthus tuberosus

Helianthus tuberosus/ Image by Kingsbrae Garden (flickr)

Helianthus decapetalus ‘Multiflorus’ is popular because of its tufted flowers. This perennial blooms in summer and bears golden-yellow flowers.

Other popular species include: H. salicifolius, H. divaricatus and Helianthus debilis.


Sunflower/ Image by Maja Dumat (flickr)

Most species of Helianthus easily grown in average, moist and well-drained soil under full sun. Propagation is done from seeds or divisions. Regular feeding and watering encourage prolific flowering.

10 Oct

Ensete ventricosum: The Abyssinian Banana

Today’s featured plant is Ensete ventricosum. It is a large, evergreen perennial plant known for its giant and lush green leaves. Commonly known as Ethiopian Banana, false banana or sometimes as Abyssinian Banana, Ensete ventricosum is widely grown as an ornamental plant for gardens and landscapes.

Ensete ventricosum

Ensete ventricosum/ Image by Gardening in a Minute (flickr)

Ensete ventricosum grows up to 6 meters and produces large banana-like leaf blades. The stout trunk of the plant is formed by overlapping leaf-bases. The ornamental value of Ensete ventricosum is because of the texture and lush green colors of the leaves. Leaves that usually up to 5 meters have smooth texture and a contrasting midrib of salmon color.

Because of the fast growth rate and easy maintenance in temperate climates, Ensete ventricosum is a favourite landscape plant among gardeners and horticulturists. Because of its big size, the plant requires plenty of room to grow to its full potential. A healthy and mature plant makes an excellent specimen that instantly grabs attention. Besides, its ornamental value, Ensete ventricosum is also grown as fodder plant in Africa.

Ensete ventricosum flowers once and then dies. The flower is actually a huge bunch of 2 to 3 meters that hangs like a pendant. The bunch consists of maroon bracts that surround the actual flower.

Ensete ventricosum can be grown easily from seeds. The plant requires generous watering, plenty of sunlight, and protection from heavy frost.

Another popular species in the genus of Ensete is Ensete maurelii (Red Abyssinian Banana). It is a beautiful ornamental plant that grows up to 10 – 20 feet produces beautiful foliage of green and maroon shades. Because of its relatively smaller size, Ensete maurelii can be grown in large containers too.

26 Sep

Ornamental Foliage Plant: Codiaeum, the Garden Croton

Codiaeum is a genus of lovely ornamental plants known for their attractive and colorful foliage. The genus originally belongs to Malaysia and the Pacific islands but grown widely in most tropical and subtropical climates across the globe. Only one species Codiaeum variegatum is cultivated and sold as outdoor ornamental plant.


Codiaeum/ Image by Ryan Somma

Codiaeum variegatum is characterized by its colorful and variegated foliage. A large number of cultivars with different variegation patterns are easily available at garden nurseries and are usually described as ‘Garden Croton’ because of close resemblance to Croton.

Garden Crotons have leathery, colourful leaves. These plants prefer rich, moist soil and a warmer climate. Most Garden Crotons benefit from bright sunlight and develop stronger foliage colors and variegation under sunny conditions. They can be grown as evergreen shrubs as well as outdoor specimen plants. In colder climates, they can be grown in a greenhouse. For best results, provide them with a humid environment.

Codiaeum variegatum

Codiaeum variegatum/ Image by PL Tandon

Garden Crotons are easily propagated from stem cuttings.

23 Sep

Ornamental Tree for Gardens and Landscapes: Schotia brachypetala

Schotia is a genus of flowering shrubs and trees from tropical regions of southern Africa where it is known for its ornamental flowers and foliage. Most plants in this genus grow as flowering shrubs often growing in to small trees that can be used for shade or ornamental purpose.

Schotia brachypetala

Schotia brachypetala/ Image by Tatiana Gerus

The flowers of Schotia grow in large clusters in spring and spread their lovely shades of bright red and pink. Schotia make excellent ornamental plants because they do not have messy growth and do not require much maintenance. Most species of Schotia would grow up to 5 m, and produce attractive evergreen foliage. Propagation is easy from seeds or cuttings.

Popular species of Schotia include S. afra var. afra and Schotia brachypetala.

17 Sep

4 Plants that Repel Pests Naturally

Beetles, mosquitoes and flies, oh my! Not many people like to deal with creepy crawly bugs, especially in and around their home. Each season brings new insects that can destroy landscaping, bite people and pets and spread disease. According to Ohio State University, Americans spend more than $3 billion each year on pest control services alone, while another $400 million is spent on DIY applications. Fortunately, pest control doesn’t have to come from the use of harsh chemicals. Many natural plants and herbs can repel these pesky pests and provide many other benefits.

1. Mint

Mint has been used for centuries to preserve food, deodorize rooms and ward off insect infestations. This non-toxic, eco-friendly plant is particularly useful at keeping ants, mosquitoes, fleas, cabbage moths and flies at bay. All species of mint, both cultivated and wild, contain aromatic properties that are repulsive to pests. When mint is brushed or crushed, the pungent scent is released. Pleasant to your senses but offensive to your small, unwelcome guests. Mint is an invasive plant and can become problematic in garden beds as it competes with other plants for space. If you wish to grow your own mint, keep the plant confined in a garden pot or place leaves in sachet bags around your home.

2. Catnip

Nepeta cataria, Catnip

Nepeta cataria, Catnip/ Image by Isabelle Blanchemain

While catnip may be useful at driving your feline crazy, the perennial herb has other excellent uses. According to researchers at Iowa State University, the essential oil in catnip that gives the plant its unique odor is approximately 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET, a compound used in many commercial insect repellents. If you grow catnip yourself, the stalks and leaves can be used to create a catnip bug spray. DoItYourself.com suggests stripping the leaves from the stalk and putting them into a food processor, while the pulp goes into a pot. Add two cups boiling water to the catnip, let sit for 10 minutes and strain the leaves. Keep the mixture in a spray bottle in the refrigerator and spray when needed to keep pests away.

3. Garlic

Garlic not only repels troublesome vampires, but its distinct odor is also revolting to insects. This powerful natural bug repellent can help eliminate mosquitoes, Japanese beetles, Mexican bean beetles, aphids and winged ants. According to Patrick Parker, SavATree Plant Health Care Program Director, one treatment with garlic can repel bugs for up to one month. To keep insects out of your garden, create a border of garlic plants around the perimeter. Garlic sprays can be made by peeling and crushing cloves of garlic. Place the garlic in a covered container with one gallon of water, one minced onion and a tablespoon of cayenne pepper and let sit for two days. Strain your new garlic repellent into a spray bottle and use as needed.

4. Basil

While delicious in pesto and salads, basil is also a highly efficient way of keeping your home free of flies. The oils found in basil plants can repel a variety of insects, including thrips and mosquitoes. Basil can be planted next to doors and windows to keep insects out of your home or in a foundation planting mixed with flowers. This popular garden herb is often used in companion gardening, planted alongside tomato plants to produce tastier, larger tomatoes. Inside the house, basil can be planted in pots using seeds or store-bought seedlings and sat on window sills. Basil needs full sun and well drained, rich soil. Many people prefer to start their seed indoors and then move their basil outdoors after the last frost. This herb is sure to repel those bothersome flying insects both inside and out.