Saturday, February 6, 2016



 February is for lovers and sending a garden valentine is a great way of showing someone how much you care.  So a bouquet or floral arrangement this Valentine’s Day, or any other day this month will be the perfect gift.

            If you are planning to send the traditional red roses, the sooner you order them, the better.  But be aware; the laws of supply and demand mean they’ll be rather pricey at holiday time.

      Consider some of the alternatives; other cut flowers, flowering potted plants, or tropical houseplants.  A foliage plant which can be dressed up for the occasion with foil, ribbons, and a Valentine ornament, will last for years in a home or office, so long as your choice doesn’t demand terribly bright light.

            If you’re less concerned with the plant’s longevity, you may opt for one with showy flowers instead.  You’ll find azaleas, begonias, chrysanthemums, kalanchoes, Persian violets, and exotic kangaroo pays among those expected to bloom for several weeks.  Hibiscus plants blossom indoors under bright light, then stop until they’re put outside for the summer.  Newer African violet hybrids bloom off and on all year round.
     Red roses remain a favorite gift but there are so many other rose colors.  There are also dozens of different cut flowers available, from cheery spring tulips, daffodils, and iris to exotic anthuriums, heliconias, and birds-of paradise.  You’ll find graceful spider mums, stems of sweet-scented lilies, sprays of delicate orchids, and spicy carnations.  Old-fashioned mixed bouquets have become very poplar in recent years.

            If buying cut flowers, buy them just beginning to open and they’ll generally last longest.  Buy flowers or bouquets with good leaves, and flowers without breakage or disease.  Protect from cold on the way home, and use a flower preservative in the water.

     If you receive cut flowers, put in water immediately with flower preservative.  Warm (not hot) water is taken up quicker by the stems.  Replace water every three or four days, and re-cut about a half-inch off of stems each time you change the water. 

  Although a sunny windowsill is an ideal spot for sun-loving houseplants, be sure that the plants aren’t touching the glass or they could be damaged by the cold.  Also, since heating vents are
often located underneath windows, plants are prone to drying out quickly if you have such forced air heat.

            So whatever plants or flowers you choose to share with your loved one this Valentine’s Day, know that with proper care and attention they will be there for you to enjoy long after February 14.

            When all is said and done, remember there’s something very romantic about one perfect rose.  You needn’t spend a fortune to say, “I love you” with flowers.

February Houseplant Tips

     Check all five growing factors if your house plants are not growing well.  Light, temperature, nutrients, moisture, and humidity must be favorable to provide good growth.

     Resume a fertilizer schedule for indoor plants, but never fertilize a plant in dry soil.  The fertilizer could burn roots that need water.  It’s better to water plants a couple of hours before fertilizing.

     When placing plants around the home, remember as a general rule, plants with thick leaves can take lower light levels than those with thin leaves. 

     House plants with large leaves and smooth foliage (philodendron, dracaena, rubber plant, etc.) benefit if the leaves are washed at intervals to remove dust and grime, and thus keeping the leaf pores open.

     Good air circulation is absolutely necessary for cacti and succulents.  Avoid placing them in hot, stuffy areas.  Be sure the indoor garden is well ventilated, yet not drafty.

Tom McNutt is a professor emeritus at The Ohio State University and a retired TV garden expert.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Every year when we put our gardens to bed and get ready for a new year, I think of all the similarities between plants and people.  Both respond to tender loving care.  I wonder if plants make New Year’s Resolutions?  I read somewhere that each American makes 1.9 New Year’s Resolutions.  If that is true around the world, think how many millions of people resolve to improve!  I wonder how many of those resolutions deal with losing weight, exercising more and smoking less.  We all want to be healthy, do things better and become better people.  Plants would probably resolve to produce more and help clean our environment.

People depend on plants for nearly everything, including food, clothing and shelter.  Plants, like people, need nurturing to flourish.  This nurturing requires attention, vision, respect, opportunities and protection.  Nurturing plants requires a good understanding of the nature and potential of different species and the purpose for which a plant is cultivated – for flowers, foliage or fruit.  This aspect of nurturing a garden reminds us of our need to nurture our own bodies by means of good food, reasonable exercise, adequate water, proper rest, cleanliness, and fulfilling our own personal goals and inner nature.  We know we must weed out the influences in our lives that sap our energy and stunt our own growth.  We know we must supply new ideas, knowledge and creative stimulation, to fertilize our minds.  We know we must prune back excessive worries, unneeded products, and old habits so that we might renew ourselves and experience vital rebirth.  We see how a neglected plant withers and dies.  As we become more skilled at nurturing plants, we begin to apply these principles to our own bodies and minds.

Nurturing Is A Year Round Chore
            Yes, you can garden in the winter.  Actually, it is the best time for making plans, as well as viewing your landscape and making decisions about what wonderful effects you want to create in your garden next year.  When the leaves fall and the annual flowers are gone, you can see where a nice arbor or water feature might go.

Assess your landscape for winter interest.  Does snow cling to evergreen branches?  Do seed heads from ornamental grasses and last year’s flowers dance in the wind?  Do the birds swoop in for a cocktail of fermented berries from the trees and shrubs?

            When the landscape looks like a black and white movie, count on conifers to colorize your world.  These cone-bearing evergreens have needles and come in all sizes, shapes and colors.  Yes, colors!  Consider the popular Colorado blue spruce, the gold thread-leaf Sawara Cypress, the orange golden eastern arborvitae.  Pines and junipers boast a paint store palette of greens, plus shades of blue, yellow and hints of red.  With some, the color varies by season.  With all, the color lasts year-long.

    Some broadleaf plants also are evergreens.  Boxwoods, Hollies, Rhododendrons and Wintercreeper (Euonymus) are options for color through winter.

   Ornamental grasses provide a terrific vertical element in summer and then take center stage in fall and winter.  Grasses offer structure, style and movement in the landscape.  They also vary in height, color and plume.

     Landscape plants should be pruned to maintain or reduce their size, to remove undesirable growth, to remove dead or damaged branches and to rejuvenate older plants to produce more vigorous foliage, flowers and fruits. In some cases, pruning is necessary to prevent damage to life and property.

     Late winter or early spring, before new growth begins, is generally considered the optimum time to prune most plants.  This is when the plant wounds heal quickly, without threat of insect or disease infection.  However, plants that bloom in early spring (before June 10), such as forsythia, magnolia and crabapples, should be pruned later after their blooms fade.  These early bloomers produce their flower buds on last year’s wood, so pruning early will remove many potential blooms.

Tom McNutt is a professor emeritus at The Ohio State University. and retired NBC4-TV resident green thumb         

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

   What kind of holiday traditions fill your dreams?  It seems the farther we march into biotechnology, the more important simple traditions become.  We remember the many family or cultural traditions of the past and this helps us develop a perspective for our future.

   As we reflect on holidays past and enjoy our special holiday with families and friends, let’s remember that people, like plants, respond to love and care.  Giving of ourselves and helping others is the best gift we can give.

 It’s the time of year, when hearts are light, wallets are lighter, smiles are bright, houses are cheery, trees are lit and family is near.  So take a deep breath, grab an eggnog and get ready for that special holiday.

Fresh Greenery

     Decorating the house with fresh greenery is one of the oldest winter holiday traditions.  Evergreens are used to represent everlasting life and hope for the return of spring.

     The first and often the best place to look for holiday greenery may be in your own landscape.  Greenery gathered from your own garden will be far fresher than any that you can buy.  You may also have a variety of unusual greenery that would be difficult to find for purchase.

Keeping Greenery Fresh
•Use clean, sharp cutters to cut branches and immediately put cut ends into water until      ready to use.
 Crush the ends of woody stems to allow the cutting to take in more water.
•Keep greenery out of sunlight.
 Immerse greenery in water overnight before arranging.  This allows  the cuttings to absorb the maximum amount of moisture.
•Allow the foliage to dry and then spray it with an antitranspirant, such as Wilt-pruf, to help seal in moisture.  NOTE:  Do not use antitranspirants on juniper berries, cedar or blue spruce. The product can damage the wax coating that gives these plants their  distinctive color.
•Keep completed wreaths, garlands and arrangements in a cool location until use.
 Display fresh greenery and fruits out of the sun and away from heat.
 Plan to replace greenery and fruits throughout the holiday season if they become less than fresh.

Are Holiday Plants Hazardous?

The poinsettia, everyone’s favorite holiday plant, has gotten a bum rap for a number of years.  It’s been falsely accused of being poisonous, yet no deaths from this plant have ever been recorded.  In fact, research studies at The Ohio State University have proven that poinsettias present no health hazard.

Some Holiday Plants DO Have Toxic Properties:

HOLLY:  Eating the bright red berries of this plant will cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain,, and diarrhea.
JERUSALEM CHERRY:  Every part of this plant contains toxic substances. Eating the fruit or foliage will adversely affect the heart.
MISTLETOE:  Acute stomach and intestinal disorders result from nibbling on the greenish, white berries.
YEW:    The leaves, seeds, bark, and twigs of this evergreen can be toxic, causing breathing difficulties, uncontrollable trembling, and vomiting.

 Although few plants cause death, children and pets are fascinated by the bright berries and shiny leaves, so place your plants out of the reach of children and pets.

Tom McNutt is a professor emeritus at The Ohio State University. and retired NBC4-TV resident green thumb


Tuesday, November 17, 2015


When the air gets that certain chill outside, don’t think there’ no more gardening to do.  As a matter of fact, now you can work up a sweat both indoors and out.

Keep Watering
         When irrigation water is turned off and systems blown out in the fall, your landscape plants still need water.  Foggy mornings, heavy frost, and cloudy skies often give a false impression that plants have adequate soil moisture.  Relatively dry air and low or no measurable precipitation lead to dry soils.  This means that even in the fall and winter trees, shrubs, and lawn grasses need water to avoid drought stress.  This is particularly true during the fall and early winter when there is little or no snow cover, or when there is an extended warm fall.
         Remember that established large trees have a root spread equal to or greater than the height of the tree.  So apply water to the most critical part of the root zone within the drip line.


Check Those Houseplants
         Have any of your houseplants experienced sudden leaf drop?  This isn’t usually caused by insects or disease but is more commonly caused by environmental problems.
         Abrupt changes in their environment commonly cause plants to suddenly lose leaves. Extreme fluctuations in temperature, for example, or a dramatic change in the light level or watering schedule can damage a plant.
         Over watering and under watering are two of the most frequent causes of poor plant health. Over watering leaves the roots susceptible to root rot. Weakened roots cannot carry nutrients and moisture to the other plant parts and this may also result in leaf drop.  If plants aren’t watered enough, the same thing will ultimately happen in that roots cannot carry moisture and nutrients.
         Proper drainage and knowing a particular plant’s moisture needs are vital.  It pays to learn about the plants you’re growing.

And Speaking of House Plants…..
      With apologies to David Letterman, I offer you my own Top Ten List:
    10)  Browning or scorching of leaf (over fertilization, low humidity).
     9) Webbing on leaves (Spider mite activity).
    8) Foliage spots (usually fungus or bacteria, with black or dark brown centers).
   7)  Sudden leaf drop (sudden change in environment).
6)  Yellowing (lack of iron).
5)  Crisp, dry foliage (lack of water).
4)  Spindly new growth (lack of light).
3)  Brown tips on healthy leaf (cold damage).
2)  Sun scorch (bleached spots from too  much sunlight).
1)  Wilting (usually under watering, but could be root rot from over watering).

Wintertime Tips:
        Empty garden hoses and bring indoors during winter.
        Turn off outside water faucets.
        Store your garden tools and furniture.
        If you are planning to have a live tree this Christmas, dig the transplant hole while soil is not frozen. Move the backfill into your garage or basement and fill the hole with a mulch to keep surrounding soil unfrozen.
     Don’t cut off tops of perennials until  they have dried (usually late winter).
      Water trees and shrubs thoroughly before the ground freezes.
      Put up Christmas outdoor lighting before the blast of storms and freezing cold conditions.
        Try not to shovel salted snow onto your plants.

Tom McNutt is a professor emeritus at The Ohio State University. and retired NBC4-TV resident green thumb