How to Care for Holiday Plants

How to Care for Holiday Plants PoinsettiasGardening experts Sheriden Hansen and Michael Caron share the origins of some common holiday plants, plus give some tips on caring for them in today’s post.


When cold weather settles into Utah, we tend to put our gardens to bed and turn our focus to our warm, comfortable homes.  But who says that gardening can’t continue through the cold winter months?  There are many options for bringing gardening inside during the holidays.  Most of the plants that we use during the holidays have specific symbolism or meaningful stories, and some can last for months or even years in our homes with some special care.

Living Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree is one of the most recognizable symbols of the holidays.  It originated as a Christmas tradition in Germany about 400 years ago, but was not common in the USA until the 1890’s.  One of the most recognizable Christmas trees, the Rockefeller Center tree, was first placed by construction workers in 1931.  The following year, the tree was placed again, but this time it was adorned with lights.  The tree has been tradition since that first humble year in the Depression Era, but is much larger and now boasts over 25,000 lights.  When bringing home your own tree, make sure the needles are flexible and remain on the tree when lightly tugged on.  The tree should have a fresh smell and the base should be re-cut before you take it home.  Healthy, active, fresh-cut trees can drink up to a gallon of water a day, especially during the first week, so use a sturdy stand with a large water reservoir. Place the tree in a cool location and keep it well-watered to ensure the needles last through Christmas. Fresh trees that are allowed to dry out will begin to shed needles quickly and become a fire hazard.  Fresh, cool water is all that is needed – It is NOT recommended to add sugar, bleach, or any other additive to the water reservoir, or spray any preservatives on the tree itself.


Poinsettias are native to Mexico and are the most popular potted plant in the world. With several colors and forms available, they add a festive feel to any room.  Joel Roberts Poinsett, U.S. Minister to Mexico from 1825 to 1829, introduced the plant to the United States.  Poinsett was a botanist and was one of the first to argue for the creation of the Smithsonian Institution. Poinsettias dislike wet soil and should be watered when the soil becomes lightweight and is dry to the touch.  Pot-covers should be removed, and the soil allowed to completely drain.  Placing plants in the sink or tub can be an easy way to accommodate watering.  Poinsettia require a rather specific daylength in order to produce flowers and can be difficult to get to rebloom.  If you decide to keep the plants for reblooming, prune them in April by cutting the stems to about half their length. Fertilize every two weeks with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer, and place in a location that gets no artificial sunlight after sunset in September. The idea is to provide 12 or more hours of uninterrupted darkness in September and October. If conditions are right, you can move your plant to a living area in your home in November, and the bracts will color for the holidays.

Christmas Cactus

These hardy succulents can last for years and will rebloom every year, if cared for properly.  Christmas cactus like bright, sunny east or south facing windows.  Although these plants are succulents, they come from the tropics and need moist soils that are allowed to dry slightly between watering.  Flowers that fail to open are the result of lack of water and warm soil temperatures.  To get plants to rebloom, place in a cool location (40 to 50⁰F) in the early fall, reduce watering, and move the plant to a location where it receives about 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness each day.  Plants should be fertilized with a houseplant fertilizer monthly from April to October to promote growth and bloom.


The word Amaryllis literally means “to sparkle”, which makes this showy bulb a perfect fit for the holiday season.  The Portuguese name for this plant translates to “St. Joseph’s staff” referencing the legend that the staff of St. Joseph burst into bloom as a sign that he was selected as the spouse of the Virgin Mary.  This bulb produces long-lived, beautiful flowers in red, white, pink, and variegated colors and are usually forced indoors beginning in October.  If you didn’t pick up bulbs in the fall, there is no need to worry, plants already forced and actively growing can usually be found in local nurseries and grocery stores.  To care for one of these magnificent plants, place in a bright sunny location, watering periodically to keep soil moist but not wet.  As the stem elongates, rotate the plant a half turn each day to prevent it bending toward the light source.  Staking stems with large flowers may also be required.  Once flowers are spent, cut the stalk but keep the leaves and continue to water the plant as needed.  Allow the plant to go dormant in the late summer by halting watering.  Remove yellow leaves and store the plant in a cool, dark, and dry location until October, when you can repot, begin watering, and start the blooming process again.


Paperwhites, like Amaryllis, are a bulb that will need to be forced to bloom in time for the holidays.  Paperwhites are a type of Narcissus and are related to daffodils, but have smaller, less showy blooms and a distinct floral fragrance.  Their white blooms are used during the holidays to signify rebirth and renewal, as they are often one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring landscape.  Look for bulbs that are firm, without blemishes or soft spots.  Bulbs should be set in a well-drained container with clean potting soil and watered in.  Place the container in a dark location with temperatures between 50-60⁰F for two weeks and then move to a sunny, warm location.  As stems lengthen, they often need to be staked with a small piece of bamboo.  Unlike Amaryllis, paperwhites are usually a one-time use bulb, and can be difficult to rebloom, even with the best care.


You may have seen mommy kissing Santa under the mistletoe, but did you know the use of mistletoe dates back to the Druids nearly 2,000 years ago?  Mistletoe was hung in houses to bring good luck, ward off evil spirits, and used as a symbol of fertility.  It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology, which is where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe originated.   Mistletoe is a parasitic plant with sticky seeds usually spread by birds.  Mistletoe plants grow roots into the stems or leaves of their hosts where it removes water and nutrients for its own growth.  Something to think about next time you get the chance to kiss under the mistletoe!

This article was written by Sheriden Hansen and Michael Caron.

Six Lovely, Long-blooming Perennials to Consider

Photo by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz

As the days get warmer gardening season is right around the corner. These gorgeous long-blooming perennials will keep your flower beds looking lush throughout the summer! 

It is finally time to plant flowers, and it is easy to default to annuals (plants that die at the end of the season) such as petunias and marigolds. These and other annuals are beautiful, but there are also many spectacular perennials that have long-bloom seasons and do not have to be replanted every year. Keep in mind that perennials are not necessarily lower maintenance than annuals, but they open up a wider array of textures and flower styles that add interest to a yard. The following are among the easiest to grow and longest blooming and are just a few of the many lovely options.

        Hummingbird Mint (Anise Hyssop): There are several species and cultivars available. Most prefer hot sun and are moderately to extremely drought hardy. Flower color varies from white to almost red. They generally reach 18-30 inches high and wide and bloom from July to October. Both the foliage and flowers are fragrant and attract many beneficial insects to the yard. Be sure to check the cold hardiness of individual cultivars. Some will only survive on the Wasatch Front, while others are fine in colder mountain valleys.

        Blanket Flower (Gaillardia): Most blanket flower species are North American natives. They have beautiful daisy-like flowers from late May to first frost. Each plant grows 9-12 inches tall and around 2 feet wide. Gaillardia do not tolerate overwatering and are perfectly happy being deep soaked every 7-14 days, depending on the soil and temperature. They do need to be deadheaded weekly.

        Gaura (Whirling Butterfly): Whirling Butterfly blooms from June to frost. It loves heat and is relatively drought hardy. The plants are best used in groupings and attract many beneficial insects. Because of the profuse number of flowers, periodic deadheading is a must to encourage new flowers. To do so, use hedging shears to cut spent flowers back to the tops of the plants. New flowers are produced within a week or so after. These are best grown along the Wasatch Front and warmer areas.

        Yellow Corydalis: This is one of the few plants that blooms from June to frost and thrives in shaded locations. It lives for 3-5 years, but reseeds itself readily. Plants reach 18-24 inches high and wide and tolerate most soils. Although they do not like to be excessively wet, do not drought stress them.

        Japanese Anemone (Windflower): Japanese Anemone also tolerates shade. It offers height in landscapes, ornamental foliage and late summer-to-fall flowers. It is generally available for purchase by mid-summer. There are anemone species that bloom at different times during the growing season. Flowers, depending on the cultivar, are similar in appearance to daisies or poppies. Windflower is somewhat slow to establish. However, once it does, it fills in well.

        Stella D’ Oro Daylily: This is one of the most popular perennials, especially among the hundreds of daylilies available. It blooms for 2-3 months in the middle of the growing season with yellow-orange flowers. Besides occasional deadheading and cutting back in the fall, there is little required maintenance to make this plant thrive. Divide it every 3-5 years to maintain production of profuse flowers. Stella D’ Oro Daylily performs well in part shade to full sun.


This article was written by Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist.


Photo by Krzysztof Ziarnek, courtesy of WikiMedia Commons


Sustainable Living through Permaculture

Permaculture.jpgImagine your pesky garden weeds as flowers, fertilizers, and salad greens. What if you could swap your sprinklers for rain showers?

Welcome to permaculture—a “permanent culture”—that mimics the natural world in useful ways. Whether you want a greener lifestyle or just another way to cut down your weekly grocery spending, permaculture can help.

A New Perspective

Permaculture doesn’t just teach you how to garden; it gives you a new perspective on life. This perspective is a holistic view, where every system—living or man-made—connects into a greater whole. Through permaculture, you realize sustainable living is the route of less work and less expense. You see that the same things that are healthy for the land can be healthy for you.

For example, we can use water, energy, and natural resources without depleting them.  We can design the land with an eye to regeneration. In areas where over-use or poor management destroyed the environment, we can revive the soil so that lush vegetation returns. Different species don’t need to live separately—they can work together.

USU Extension’s Permaculture Initiative

Since 2013, the USU Permaculture Initiative has provided research, teaching, and outreach on permaculture design. This includes permaculture as a community resiliency design framework in light of projected climate change impacts for the Southwest. This year, with partners like the Logan Library, the Bridgerland Audubon Society, and Moab Bee Inspired Gardens, we’re providing several workshops and presentations.

In February, local Logan area expert Shane Richards gave a hands-on fruit tree pruning demonstration. In March, Brigham City resident Liz Braithwaite presented on the paradigm shift that comes from permaculture. Want to participate? Find out more at

This article was written by Roslynn Brain, Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist with USU Extension, Moab

When to Plant? That is the Question

When to Plant.jpg

Even if it is too early to plant, it’s never too early to start planning your garden. Learn from USU Extension gardening expert Taun Beddes when you can safely plant your vegetable garden.

One day it is sunny and warm, and the next day it is raining and cold. Or in northern Utah, it could even be snowing.

Determining when to plant a garden can be especially confusing in Utah’s unpredictable, varied climate where last-frost dates can vary by many days within just a few miles. Many experienced gardeners have planted and later lost their plants to frost.

As you determine when you should plant, consider the geographic characteristics of where you live. When a yard is located in a populated area or on a mountain bench, it usually has a longer growing season. Other areas located at slightly lower elevations where cold air drains and cannot escape have a shorter season. This is why local commercial orchards are generally located on benches. Additionally, urban and suburban areas are slightly warmer than surrounding areas due to the urban heat effect. Heat from buildings and warmth generated by sunlight reflected from roads and other surfaces increases temperatures and delays frost. It can be helpful to chat with a local farmer or experienced gardener in your area to determine what works for him or her regarding when to plant.

In addition to frost information, it is important to take into account the needs of the plants. Vegetables planted locally fall into four basic categories: hardy, semi-hardy, tender and very tender. Depending on which category a plant belongs to, planting dates vary from early spring until early summer. Consider the following:

  • Hardy vegetables, including asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, onions, peas and spinach, can be planted as soon as the soil is workable in early spring. This usually ranges between 45 and 60 days before the average last frost. These same vegetables can be safely planted until the average last frost date.
  • Semi-hardy plants, such as beets, carrots, lettuce and potatoes, can be planted one to two weeks after the hardy group. These can be planted until the average last-frost date.
  • Tender vegetables, such as celery, cucumbers, corn and most beans, should be planted on the average last-frost date.
  • Very tender plants, such as squash, beans, melons, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, should not be planted until at least a week after the average last frost. Even if frost does not occur before this time, these plants will not grow well and are more susceptible to disease until warmer weather.

If you have lost plants to frost, you are not alone, and all you can do is try again.

Average Frost Dates for Various Utah Locations (Note that these dates are averages and can vary from year to year.)
        Frost Dates
City Last First Frost-Free Days
Alpine May 20 September 30 136
Blanding May 13 October 12 153
Cedar City May 10 October 5 148
Delta May 17 September 28 134
Farmington May 5 October 10 158
Fillmore May 16 October 4 140
Huntsville June 11 September 9  89
Kanab May 7 October 20 166
Lake Town June 15 September 10  87
Logan May 14 September 25 135
Morgan June 6 September 11 98
Moroni June 1 September 18 109
Ogden May 1 October 24 176
Park City June 9 September 1  92
Price May 12 October 7 148
Roosevelt May 18 September 25 130
Spanish Fork May 1 October 13 165
St. George April 6 October 28 205
Tooele May 7 October 14 159
Tremonton May 3 October 10 160

This article was written by Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist, 801-851-8460,

Three Tips for Tree Planting

Tree Planting Tips.jpgTrees are an integral part of landscaping, and it’s important to know the basics of starting them out right so they will flourish for many years to come. Here are answers to three frequently asked questions about tree planting.

When is the best time of year to plant?

Trees are best planted when they are still dormant with tight, unopened buds in the early to mid-spring after the soil has thawed. Cool temperatures and good soil moisture in the spring help trees get established. Fall planting also works well for many species, though watering is critical if the fall is dry. Summer planting of balled-and-burlapped and container plants can be successful, though hot temperatures, dry conditions and non-dormant trees make good care especially important and survival less sure. Bare-root trees should only be planted in spring while still dormant.

Which type of tree is best?

Landscape trees and shrubs can be obtained in four basic types: balled and burlapped, container/potted, bare root and tree spaded. Each type has advantages and disadvantages, and none is ideal for all situations. Bare-root trees have the most naturally formed root system and are less expensive, but they are not commonly available from nurseries. Balled and burlapped trees work well because they have been grown for several years in soil and are more likely to have a well-distributed root ball than potted trees. Potted or containerized trees are most likely to develop root system problems such as girdling roots and buried root collars. Spaded trees grow well but are not always available.

How large does the root ball need to be?

All four types need to have an adequate root system. A good rule of thumb is that the root system, root ball or container diameter or spread should be 10 to 12 inches for every inch of stem caliper (diameter at ground-line just above any basal swell). Therefore, a 3-inch caliper tree should have a 30 to 36-inch-wide root ball as a minimum. Root ball depth is not as critical as width, but should be deeper for larger trees.

For further information on planting trees and general tree information, visit

This article was written by Mike Kuhns, Utah State University Extension forestry specialist, 435-797-4056,

Ask an Expert // How to Winterize Your Sprinklers

winterize sprinklersFind out how to prepare your sprinklers for cold winter temperatures with this instructional video.


Tips for Fall Planting

tips-for-fall-plantingCan you plant in the fall? The answer is yes! Watch USU Extension gardening expert Jerry Goodspeed share some tips on fall planting on KSL’s Studio 5.


Studio 5 Fall Planting copy


  • Planting in the fall allows plants to establish roots and recover before the weather turns hot again in the summer.
  • Fall is a great time to find plants on sale at nurseries.
  • Anything can be planted in the fall. It is an especially good time to plant trees and shrubs. Perennials are also a good choice for fall planting. Look for ornamental grasses or plants currently in bloom at your local nursery. You can enjoy them for a short time now, and again each fall.
  • Try planting pansies and bulbs together.
  • When planting, be sure to mulch around the base of the plant to keep the soil around it warmer for longer. This will help the plant establish roots. Try using bark, peat moss or soil pep.
  • While fall is a good time to fertilize your lawn, don’t fertilize anywhere else in your garden, and don’t do any major pruning. Just enjoy your garden and the work you put into it all year!

Find more October gardening tips in our Gardener’s Almanac.

Zucchini, Zucchini, Zucchini….Zucchini?

zucchini.jpgDo you have more zucchini than you know what to do with? Give these recipes a try!

I’ve never met anyone who has too little zucchini. It is easy to grow…and grow it does! Zucchini is a healthy vegetable — with a surprisingly high amount of vitamin C. Other than making your basic zucchini bread or once again making fried zucchini for the millionth time, there are many other fun ways to use it.

Home Canning

Although it is NOT recommended to can cubed or sliced zucchini (or other summer squash), there are tested zucchini canning recipes. Safe recipes are available for zucchini-pineapple and pickled bread-and-butter zucchini. The added acid in these recipes helps make them safe.

Check out the fact sheet “Preserving the Harvest: Zucchini


Shredded zucchini freezes beautifully and can be pulled out year-round to make up a yummy chocolate zucchini cake!

For directions on how to freeze zucchini go here.

Want the yummy chocolate zucchini cake recipe too? Try this one


Few people think about it – but zucchini actually dries quite nicely.

Choose young, slender zucchini. (Those huge overgrown zucchini won’t be very tasty once you dry them). Cut into ¼-inch slices, and dry at 125 F until brittle. Dried zucchini works nicely in soups and casseroles.

Squash Blossoms

What? Eat the blossoms? You bet! They are edible and quite tasty either raw or cooked. Cut the blossoms midday when the petals are open, and leave a bit of stem. Rinse blossoms and put them in ice water until ready to use. You will want to use the blossoms up within 4-6 hours.

Squash Blossom Frittata

  • 3-4 zucchini blossoms
  • 1-2 baby squash
  • 4 eggs
  • Dash of milk
  • 2 green onions
  • Asiago cheese
  • Chopped parsley and snipped chives (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Pick 3 to 4 blossoms per person and 1 or 2 baby yellow or green summer squash. Rinse blossoms well and drain on paper towels. Beat 4 eggs with a little milk. Add fresh chopped parsley and snipped chives, if desired. Add salt and pepper to taste. In a non-stick pan, sauté a little butter and cook 2 green onions and thinly sliced baby squash just until soft. Then quickly sauté the blossoms for about 30 seconds and remove from pan. Pour egg mix into pan, sprinkle and arrange the onions, squash and blossoms on top and cook over low-to-medium heat until almost set. Sprinkle with Asiago cheese and put under the broiler until lightly puffed and browned.

So — do you have some new ideas? I hope so! However, if you are still on the hunt for a great zucchini bread recipe, check this one out. Included are helpful step-by-step directions and tips.

This article was written by Darlene Christensen, USU Extension associate professor, 435-277-2406,



Ask a Expert // How Can I Keep My Landscape Looking Lovely in the Heat?

Landscape in the Heat.jpgThe heat is on, and many lawns are struggling. Consider these suggestions for keeping your landscapes and gardens healthy while also saving water.

Go easy on the watering.

In almost all circumstances, plants tolerate or prefer to have variations in soil moisture. This means that it is perfectly fine for soil to dry out moderately between irrigations. Soil that is kept overly wet reduces vigor and can actually harm plants.

Watch for the signs before watering.

Do not rely on a sprinkler clock or irrigation controller to irrigate lawns on a set schedule. Instead, determine when the lawn actually requires irrigation and manually activate the system as needed. A common sign of drought stress in turfgrass is grass blades not quickly springing back upright when walked on, leaving a trail of footprints in the lawn. Additionally, walking on a lawn barefoot can let you feel how dry the soil is. Relatively dry soil under the grass is hard, does not “give” when stepped on and is slightly uncomfortable to walk on. Wetter soil depresses a bit when weight is applied.

Choose the right time to water.

Do not water between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. During this period, up to 50 percent of water emitted from sprinklers is lost to evaporation. Instead, irrigate when the sun is down or low in the sky.


Spot-treat brown spots.

Small areas of the lawn can brown during hot weather because of variations and inefficiencies in sprinkling systems. Instead of increasing the amount of time the entire sprinkling system irrigates, supplement water to the brown areas with a small hose-end lawn sprinkler or water by hand with a hose.


Don’t cut the lawn too short.

Mow the lawn to a height of at least 2 inches. This allows roots to penetrate deeper into the soil and increases overall drought hardiness.


Go deep.

When irrigating turf, water long enough for the water to penetrate 6 to 12 inches into the soil. This encourages deeper root development and reduces the frequency of required irrigations.


Adjust watering based on sun exposure.

Irrigate shady and sunny areas according to need. Shady areas require much less irrigation than sunnier areas.


Mulch your beds.

Cover bare soil in the garden and flower beds with 2-3 inches of mulch. Not only does this save water, it greatly reduces the need for weeding. Inexpensive mulch can be obtained from many local green waste recycling centers. Grass clippings also work well and are free.


Hand water or use drip irrigation for flower and garden beds.

Hand-water or use drip irrigation to irrigate flowerbeds, vegetable gardens and shrub beds. Water should be placed near plants and penetrate the soil 6 inches deep for flowers and veggies, and 2 feet into the soil for established trees and shrubs.

This information was provided by Kelly Kopp, Utah State University Extension water conservation and turfgrass specialist, 435-757 6650, and Taun Beddes, USU Extension horticulturist, 801-851 8460,

Porch Plant Primer

Porch Plant Primer

This week we visited KSL’s Studio 5 to give some tips on porch plants. Here’s a list of the plants we showed, plus some bonus tips that didn’t make it into the segment.

Studio 5 porch plantsGetting Started

First things first – consider the sun exposure your pot will get. Do you have a north-facing porch that is shaded all day? Does your front door face west, and get sunshine in the hottest part of the day? What about east-facing, where you get some cool morning sunshine, but shade in the afternoon? Then there’s south facing, which gets moderate sunshine most of the day. Don’t forget to look at the big picture –  you may have a south-facing porch, but it’s covered, or there’s a tree nearby that offers shade.

Once you’ve determined how much sun or shade your porch plants will get, consider what kind of plants you would like. Do you want something perennial that will come back year after year? If this is the case, be sure to select a pot that can withstand Utah’s cold winter weather. Plastic or resin are good choices.

There are a few different options you can go with as far as plant design. One that we’ve discussed here on the blog before is the thrill, fill, spill technique. Alternatively, you could plant all one type of plant, or even a single shrub or small patio tree.


On the Show

Curious what plants we used on the show? Here’s the complete list.


Shade Plants:

Screenshot (10)

  • Coleus
  • Red spike


Sun Plants:

Screenshot (3)

  • African daisy
  • Marigold
  • Million bells
  • Sedge grass
  • Creeping jenny
  • Creeping charlie
  • Sweet potato vine


Filtered Sun Plants:

Screenshot (15)

  • Hellebore
  • Coral bells
  • Ajuga
  • Creeping jenny


Pizza Garden:

pizza garden

  • San Marzano tomato
  • Hot pepper
  • Walla walls onion
  • Italian parsley
  • Oregano
  • Basil


For a salsa garden, use cilantro as the herbs, and a jalapeño pepper. Container gardens that will produce fruit are best for porches that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. 


Trouble Shooting

Can’t seem to keep your porch plants alive? Chances are, the problem is with water—either too much or to little of it. The best way to combat this is by monitoring the moisture in your pots. You can do this by sticking a wooden chopstick down to root level in the pot, and checking to see if it is damp when you pull it out. A foolproof way of doing this is with a digital moisture monitor. West-facing porch plants may actually need water twice a day to stay hydrated, while a shaded pot may not even need daily watering. The only way to know when your plants need water is to check the moisture level.

Using good potting soil will help retain moisture, but you can also find soil additives that will further maximize moisture retention. A new company out of Morgan, Utah, produces a soil additive that is a combination fertilizer and moisture retention product, and it is actually just made of wool! If you use an additive to retain moisture, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you don’t have to monitor moisture. The additive is just an extra step you can take to ensure that your plants are hydrated and happy.

Another tip for west-facing porches is to choose light-colored pots. Potted plants are extra vulnerable to hot and cold, because their root systems are more exposed to the elements than if they were planted in the ground. A lighter-colored pot will keep those sensitive roots cooler.

Here’s a trouble shooting tip for all porch plants, sun or shade: remove spent foliage and pests. If the flowers on your plants have bloomed and are headed downhill, remove them! You don’t want the plant to continue putting energy into flowers or leaves that are spent, so just clip them off. And of course, if you notice insects, be sure to remove them to prevent putting your plant into distress. (Distressed plants attract more bugs, and no one wants that).


Find Out More 

We learned all of this information by talking with the experts in our Salt Lake County Extension office. Your local Extension office is a great resource! Find your local office here.

All of our plants and materials used on the show (including the wool soil additive) were generously loaned to us from Millcreek Gardens.

For more gardening information, visit

This article was written by Marta Nielsen, Live Well Utah blog editor,