Calathea ornata ‘Sanderiana’

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The pinstriped Calathea ornata is a fancy version of the prayer plant, notable for its variegated leaves that can be golden or a light pink. This is a statement plant, particularly the Sanderiana cultivar, which is a larger version and has shorter, broader leaves.

This is a plant of the tropics which means it loves its heat and humidity. It does not love direct sunlight – in fact took much direct sun can cause those lovely pinstripes to fade or can burn the leaves.

When watering, you are trying to walk the line between keeping the soil damp most of the time without allowing the plant to sit in water or overly wet soil, which can cause root rot. You’ll know you’ve overdone it if the plant starts to wilt.

While sitting in water is not good, surrounding it with humidity is a positive. Try a humidifier or sitting the plant on pebbles to increase humidity. If you really want to give your Sanderiana a treat, bring it into the bathroom with you when you plan to enjoy a long, hot shower.

For a planting medium, you can use a mix or peat moss and perlite, but if you want to make it easy for yourself, trying some African violet mix.

Finally, remember that this plant likes it nice and hot, and while it will tolerate cooler temperatures in the home, make sure it’s not near any A/C vents and avoid drafts.

This Week’s Specials

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These specials are good through July 4th: 

  • Armstrong Achilla Moonshine, now $9.99 (regularly $12.99)
  • Armstrong Nepeta Purple Haze, now $9.99
  • 20% of all locust trees
  • 5-gallon Warner-grown Russian Sage, now $22.99 (regularly $29.99) – these plants are arriving Tuesday, June 28.

All specials while supplies lasts.

Save a Life on Friday, July 1

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Please mark your calendars for next Friday, July 1 and start the Independence Day holiday weekend right by saving a life.

That’s when Warner’s Nursery will be having its annual summer blood drive in the safe and super comfy Vitalant bus in our parking lot.

This has been a long-standing tradition with us and we typically host it in the summer for one very important reason: It’s when donations are most needed.

You see, every summer, blood donations dry up. Throughout the country, blood banks tend to experience a drastic decline in donations when it gets hot, primarily because of vacation schedules. 

But the need for blood never takes a break.

It’s estimated that every two seconds, someone in the U.S. is in need of blood. And the blood that is donated doesn’t have a long shelf life: platelets (critical for people with clotting problems, cancer or undergoing major surgery) are only good for about five days and red blood cells (needed for acute blood loss or transfusions) only last for about 42 days.

In addition to the good feeling you’ll get from donating blood, there’s some other benefits. Blood donors will receive a voucher for “the ultimate chocolate chip cookie” from Pizza Hut;  a coupon for 15% off regularly priced items at Warner’s, and can enter a drawing for a chance to win one of two $50 gift certificates from Warner’s. Additionally, donors will be automatically entered to win a 2022 VW Taos S.

All you need to do to sign up is go to the Vitalant website, click on “blood drive code” and enter the word “warners.”

Thank you so much and we look forward to seeing you on Friday, July 1.

Happy Gardening,

Houseplant of the Week: Grape Ivy

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Grape Ivy goes by the formal name Cissus rhombifolia. Technically isn’t an ivy plant, but it does allow you to bring that vineyard look right into your home. It’s also sometimes referred to as the Oak Leaf Ivy because of the shape of its leaves.

It can be potted, trail down from a basket or climb – and no matter how you use it, it always looks good.

This is a low-light vine, which makes it a great indoor plant. However, if you are using it as a climbing plant, know it will climb towards the nearest light source (and it can grow to about five feet indoors). However, you can just prune it if it grows past where you want it.

The most important part of caring for your Grape Ivy is making sure it has enough, but not too much, water. That starts with planting it in a rich soil and drains well and in a container with plenty of drainage holes.

During the growing season, provide your Grape Ivy with steady water to keep the soil consistently moist, but not drenched. You can cut back on watering in the winter and allow the soil to dry in-between doses of water.

Though they need a lot of water, grape ivy plants are especially susceptible to root rot, so it’s important to plant them in the right soil and keep an eye on their reaction to your watering. If you notice the plant dropping leaves, it’s likely a sign that it’s receiving too much water and you should adjust accordingly.

Gardening with Native Plants

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For gardeners in northern Arizona, there are many benefits to using native plants when creating our gardens. They are naturally adapted to our climate and extreme growing conditions. They also add a unique beauty to cultivated landscapes.

Many native plants are drought tolerant and require less supplemental water once established. That’s becoming increasingly important, now that the “new normal” for the southwest is hotter and dryer.

Gardening with native plants increases the biodiversity of your landscape. It attracts native insects, pollinators and other wildlife, including birds, to your yard.

What is a Native Plant?

A native plant is a plant that is found naturally in the environment without human influence. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines it as “A plant that is a part of the balance of nature that has developed over hundreds or thousands of years in a particular region or ecosystem.”

By contrast, a “cultivar” has been bred by humans for a desired trait, such as a specific color, more vigor, or bigger blooms. Some of our native plants have been selected for these traits by plant breeders and are commonly found in nurseries.

True native plants species that you can find pretty easily at local nurseries include Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus), sulphur-flowered buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum), Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera), fern bush (Chamaebatiaria millifoium), and Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa).

There also are a few backyard growers and organizations in Flagstaff that specialize in growing true native species, including The Arboretum at Flagstaff.

Caring for Your Native Plants

Here is some general information and growing tips about some of the most common native plants available in northern Arizona.

  • Penstemons typically bloom earlier in the season giving the pollinators something to feast upon during spring. They are quite showy and an excellent choice for a low water landscape. They come in a variety of colors and can be found in a number of different habitat and soil types. In general, they prefer well-draining soils, but a few species can handle clay.
  • Sulphur-flower buckwheat attracts several bees and butterfly species to the garden. They are also an important food source for a variety of birds. This plant prefers sunny dry spaces, and their low-growing habit makes them an excellent choice for rock gardens.
  • Fern bush and Apache bloom are both native shrubs and members of the rose family. They have white flowers that bloom in the late spring-summer. Fern bush has unique, aromatic, fernlike leaves, while Apache plume has seeds that look like a plume of smoke that show up in the fall. Both are drought tolerant and make a wonderful addition to the native plant garden.

If you haven’t already discovered the horticultural benefits of using native plants in your garden, I urge you to try them. You’ll be adding beauty to your landscape while using plants that are uniquely adapted to our environment.

Gayle Gratop has been working with native plants in the Flagstaff area since 2007. She is an instructor in the Master Gardener Program with Coconino County Cooperative Extension. Before joining the Extension team, Gayle was the greenhouse manager at The Arboretum at Flagstaff for five years. She has also worked monitoring native plants for the Coconino National Forest. She loves everything about native plants, including growing them, gardening with them, and looking for them while hiking all around northern Arizona.

Houseplants of the Week: Terrarium Plants

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terrarium plants

This week’s houseplant star is actually several different plants living together under glass. Highly personal and creative, a terrarium is a work of living art that can add much to your home décor – or be a terrific gift!

Simply put, a terrarium is a container, typically made of glass, that is fully or partially enclosed and filled with small plants. A fully enclosed terrarium will essentially create an ecosystem that’s self-sustaining, but some plants (like succulents) require a container that’s at least partially open to allow for airflow.

For your terrarium, you will need:

  • A container to hold your plants. This can be one specifically designed for terrarium use, but you can also use any clear glass container with a wide mouth, from a goldfish bowl to a cookie jar.
  • Small plants that don’t grow too fast. African violets, pothos, small ferns, lucky bamboo, club moss and creeping figs are all good choices. And, of course, succulents, but again we’d suggest not fully sealing the container if you do.
  • Some gravel or crushed stone
  • Sheet moss and potting mix
  • (Optional) some decorations.

Putting Together Your Terrarium

Terrariums don’t have drainage holes, so you’ll want to build up your terrarium to create a drainage layer that keeps water away from the plants’ roots. That’s where your gravel or crushed stone comes in, to give water a place to go.  Then you’ll want to use a little moss to create a layer between the stone and your potting soil. After that, add about 2 inches of damp potting soil, then the plants.

Think about what you want the finished product to look like. Arrange your taller and shorter plants so they are visually interesting. Contrast colors and leaf shapes to make them stand out – much like you do for your outside garden beds!

When you take your plants out of their containers, tease out any roots that have become rootbound. You also might want to trim the roots a bit (this retards the growth of the plant, but be careful not to cut too much back). Create holes for each plant and place the plants in the terrarium, gently patting the soil down to keep them secure and eliminate any air pockets.

Once your plants are in, you can add fun decorations to your terrarium to truly make it your own.

Houseplant of the Week: Cacti

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Found in an amazing array of shapes and colors, cacti are those succulents that even the blackest of thumbs have a hard time killing. The cactus family (Cactaceae) is considered one of the most distinctive and specialized groups in the plant kingdom, which includes about 2,000 species!

What do you need to grow cacti? A sunny spot, well-draining soil and not much else. The big trick with cacti is not overwatering them.

All cacti are part of the succulent family of plants, meaning that their stems are designed to hold water in case of a drought. When the plant is dry it uses those reserves. But if you overwater, it can cause the plant to rot.

Critter-Resistant Gardening

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I gave a talk at Warner’s Root Camp recently on Deer and Javelina Resistant Gardening. I thought by putting this talk together, I would have a lot more answers on what to do. We get many calls at the extension office on what do about wildlife damage in the garden. I figured all I had to do was some research.

How hard can this talk be?

Building Fences

I quickly learned that aside form a sturdy fence, there aren’t many easy solutions for either deer or javelina control. In fact, for most wildlife problems in the garden, the key to control is prevention, and exclusion is the best remedy.

But exclusion isn’t always that easy. Your HOA may not allow fences. Or the cost may be too expensive. So, before you throw up your hands and give up, let’s visit the four habitat elements that wildlife require: food, water, shelter, and space. Modifying these elements can be used to discourage unwanted visitors.

Food is a main attractant to many gardens. A colorful tulip bed is like a dessert table for both deer and javelina. And if food resources are scarce, almost any plant will do. There are some plants that both critters avoid, especially when dry conditions haven’t driven animals to eat almost anything. Butterfly bush, oaks, skunk bush and other sumacs, daffodils and daylilies are good examples.

Javelina are opportunistic eaters, and their diet can change with the availability of food. They nibble on many plants or dig up plants that they don’t actually eat. They are especially fond of prickly pear cactus, and are known to seek out flowers and fruit. One Master Gardener lost spaghetti squash to a squadron of javelina. Vegetable plants that they seem to avoid are chili pepper, cucumber, and eggplant, and most herbs. Since javelina have a keen sense of smell, maybe strong odors can keep them away.

There are no guarantees on what javelina won’t eat, so the best strategy is to put up sturdy fencing that is a minimum of two to three feet tall. At my house recently, a javelina opted for cat food as a meal avoiding all the native plants in my front yard. (Feeding wildlife though is never a good practice.)

More Options Available for Deer

There are more options when considering how to prevent damage by deer. Again, you can think about what plants deer love and what they avoid. Favorites include roses and fruit trees. They often avoid smelly plants, particularly herbs such as lavender, sage, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. Plants that have fuzzy leaves like lamb’s ear and fern-like leaves like yarrow are not preferred choices.

In combination with growing less palatable plants, repellants such as capsicum pepper, garlic and coyote urine sprayed on plants can reduce the amount of damage. These all work to some degree but varying them often makes them more effective. Frightening with outdoor lighting or noise may seem like a good idea but many animals quickly learn to ignore these methods – and it can really annoy your neighbors. Motion sensors can work but I know a group of gardeners that got sprayed by oscillating sprinklers when they accidently tripped the sensor while visiting a garden.

As with javelina, the only sure way to control deer damage is to erect study fencing ideally at least eight feet tall. Colorado State University has a great publication on preventing deer damage.

Hattie Braun is the County Director of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension in Coconino County, and coordinator of the Master Gardener Program.

Houseplant of the Week: Kalanchoe

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Kalanchoe, which also goes by the lively names “Flaming Katy” and “Madagascar Widow’s-thrill,” is a popular succulent that comes in a wide variety of vibrant colors, including yellow, pink, magenta, orange and red. These blooms are set off by gorgeous, large, deep-green leaves.

They like bright, natural light as long as they don’t get too much direct sun, which can cause burning. The more light they get, the better; the flowers often won’t bloom if the plant doesn’t get enough.

As succulents, Kalanchoe don’t want to be sopping wet. They need good drainage. Water well and then water again when dry (which could mean up to two weeks depending on your house temperature, lighting and the size of the pot).

When you repot, use a mix of regular potting soil and one designed for succulents. And while Kalanchoe aren’t particularly vulnerable to pests, keep an eye out for aphids and mealybugs.

Houseplant of the Week: Caladium

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Many think of caladium as an outdoor annual, but this plant, with its dramatic array of green, red, pink and white leaves can be grown indoors as well.

However, don’t be surprised if your plant only produces leaves from spring to fall. Caladium plants require a rest period of about five months before they sprout again in spring.

Place your caladium in medium light, keeping them out of direct sunlight, which can burn their leaves.

The big challenge with these plants is that they like a lot of humidity, as they are natives of tropical forests. You can achieve this by misting or placing a saucer filled with pebbles and water under the container. As the water evaporates, it will moisten the air and provide the humidity your caladium needs to stay happy.