Potted plant issue

Q What is this fuzzy white mold on the rim of my pot? (See photo.)

A This looks like accumulation of soluble salts. It often happens when someone has a plant in a pot that sits in a saucer and is allowed to soak up any water that sits in the saucer after watering, or if they water the plant from the bottom. Since the clay pot is porous, it will tend to wick the water back up and evaporate, leaving the salts behind. Usually one would see salt deposits on the surface of the growing media as well, but not in this case.

I would scrape it off the rim of the pot, then the next time the plant needs to be watered, set the whole plant in the sink and let the water run slowly to saturate the soil and let the excess run out the bottom of the pot for about 5 minutes. Repeat this process each time you water, or perhaps once a month.

Blowing weeds

Q Can you tell us what the weed is that blows all over and gathers like tumbleweeds. Looks sort of like tumble weeds as it is round like a basketball and very, very light. The wind or a breeze picks it up, and it floats in the air lightly. It piles up in our windbreak out on the farm. (See photo.)

A There are several plants that are our typical tumbleweeds. The most common one is likely Russian thistle (Salsola kali). It has soft foliage when it is young but when it matures it has stiff, woody branches and dried leaves with a prickle at the tip. It can grow 1 to 3’ tall.

Kochia (Kochia scoparia) is another common tumbleweed. It can vary in size quite a bit, from only a few inches tall when it grows in your lawn where it gets mowed off regularly, or up to 6’ tall. It has narrow, simple leaves 1 to 2” long and very small, flowers that do not have petals.

Tumble pigweed (Amaranthus albus) is a rounded plant reaching 1 to 3’ in diameter. It has little prickly flower heads that produce the seed that is spread as the tumbleweed rolls around. The stem usually breaks right at the soil surface setting it free to tumble.

Tumble mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum) is also sometime seen. This relative of mustard and radishes has more erect stems that grow 2 to 5’ tall. It has slender, erect seed pods that are 2 to 4” long that split open when they dry out in the fall. The stem of this plant also usually breaks off at the soil line in the fall.

All of these weeds are common along the edges of crop land, pastures, or in other areas like road ditches, or open areas that don’t have a good stand of other vegetation. And, both are quite effective at producing seed and then spreading it for miles, in some cases, as they tumble with the wind.

Help for my new peonies

Q I just received several peony plants that I had ordered online. I mistakenly assumed when I ordered them that they would be sent in the spring. Now with these fledgling plants on my doorstep, I am confused as to what to do. If I plant them now, is there enough grow time to allow them to establish roots before the snow flies? Or, is storage a better idea? Thank you for any help you can give me.

A It is getting a bit late, but I think planting them now is still the best option. Peonies begin growing pretty early in the spring and their new shoots are quite brittle and easily damaged or broken off. So, if you wait, you might not be able to get them planted in the spring early enough before those new shoots start to grow. Also, these hardy perennials need to go through the winter or at least a cold treatment, like being stored in a refrigerator, in order for the rather large buds you should see attached to the plants to sprout next spring and grow into new shoots.

Find a sunny location to plant your peonies. Dig a large enough hole to easily accommodate the roots when you spread them out. Make the hole deep enough so that the buds will be about 1 to 2” below the soil surface when you fill in the hole with the soil you removed. Gently firm the soil over the plants, being careful not to push down too hard and break off the buds. Give each plant a thorough watering to settle the soil around each plant. Then, when the ground freezes, put a few inches of mulch over the top. Shredded leaves or straw would work well.

Holiday cactus

Want to brighten up the holidays? Here is an idea, buy a holiday cactus. You see them all over at grocery stores, big box stores and even home improvement stores. Holiday cactuses will add color to the home decor and brighten up those dreary winter days.

Holiday cactuses include Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter cactuses. Holiday cacti are so named because of the time these plants usually flower. All holiday cacti are a leaf cacti. The plant bodies have flattened leaves which are actually stems where flowers are produced from notches in these stems or from the tips. The blooms last a long time. You can find them in a wide array of colors. Originally pink or fuchsia were the most widely found colors. Now, with hybrids, you can find white, red, yellow and varying shades of purple. They all have the same growing conditions. They need well drained sandy soil and bright, indirect light. The plant likes to be “root or pot bound”. The key to keeping them alive is not to overwater. You should water them when the soil is completely dry.

Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) bloom in the late fall, closer to the thanksgiving holiday. Most of the time, they are sold as Christmas cactuses. The difference is the Thanksgiving cactus’ leaf edges are pointy and jagged. But both of these cacti are usually forced in the greenhouse by artificially shortening the day length to get them to flower when the producer wants. They could even be forced to flower during the summer if that was desired.

The true Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) normally will flower in late December thru February when our day length is the shortest. The edge of the leaf is smooth and has rounded tips.

Easter cactus (Hatiora gaetneri or Phipsalidopsis gaetneri) will produce flower buds in February thru April. It is really known as a spring cactus. The edges are known for the bristles that can be found on the edges of their leaf segments. The flowers are a bit different too. They are more of a star-shaped form. This cactus is especially sensitive to overwatering.

If you know some key tips, you can keep the plant alive and flowering. Encouraging the cactus to bud, boils down to long periods of uninterrupted darkness. It takes three to four weeks of 12-14 hours of darkness and approximately 10 hours of bright to medium light. By doing this, tiny buds will start forming. Holiday cactuses need cool temperature (50 -65 degrees Fahrenheit) during this time too. Only water the plant once a week. Avoid placing it near heating vents; that will cause too much of a temperature fluctuation. If you start this process by September 15th you will be right on track to have your holiday cactus bloom around Christmas.

If you have an Easter cactus, then it will need to have a dry period from October thru November. That means don’t water it at all for that month. After the dry period, start watering once a week again. The shorter daylight hours and the longer nighttime will induce it to start the budding process. You will then have those beautiful blooms in early spring usually right around Easter.

If you are at a loss for a gift, then these holiday cactuses could be your go-to gift this year.

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