Birds and Blooms Blog

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Parsley Accents in the Flower Garden

Jill Staake

Though most of you are probably huddled under blankets inside right now, looking at your flower garden covered in a blanket of snow outside, January in Central Florida is a great time for planting. As I helped to install the mid-winter plantings at the butterfly garden where I work, I was reminded that parsley makes great filler in containers and flower gardens. The pretty green foliage adds texture that sets off your flowers, and the fresh scent is always welcome. Even better, parsley is one of the host plants for the Black Swallowtail butterfly, so you really can’t miss!

Parsley with Alyssum and Ageratum

This year, we mixed parsley with sweet alyssum and ageratum in our cinderblock wall planters, for a sweet green and white effect.

Parsley with Alyssum and Ageratum

In past years, I’ve added parsley to “all-in-one” butterfly planters, mixed with pink pentas and blue salvia.

Parsley Butterfly Planter

I’ve even seen it grown in large containers all on its own – this was at the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival a few years back. I was surprised at just how striking this really was.

Parsley Planter

Parsley is very easy to grow. You’ll find two basic kinds available, often known as “curly parlsey” and “flat parsley”. Each of these adds their own texture, depending on the look you want to achieve. Parsley can take full sun to part shade, and does require regular watering. You can start it from seed – it’s a little slow to get going, but it loves cold weather, so start it early and be patient. (Get some great tips for starting parsley here.)

Parsley Eastern Black Swallowtail

Jill Staake Eastern Black Swallowtail eggs and newly hatched caterpillars on parsley.

In most parts of the country, growing parsley means attracting Black Swallowtail butterflies, because parsley is one of their host plants. Learn more about the Black Swallowtail and its life cycle here.

DIY Garden: 3 Easy Ways to Preserve Lemons

Do you cook with or use lemons around your house?  I do.  In fact, there are so many ways that I use lemons from making household citrus cleaner from its peels, natural air fresheners and of course, I am always using lemon juice or zest when I cook.

Where I live, lemons are plentiful during the winter months and I am often at a loss on how to use them all.  But come summer, I wish that I had lemons again instead of having to head out to the store to buy them.

Lemon Harvest

In warm winter areas, it’s not unusual to be gifted with lemons from friends and neighbors.  This bunch of lemons came from our veterinarian, who also happens to be our neighbor – (I didn’t mention to him that we already had a lemon tree).  So with all of these lemons, I decided to preserve them so that I would be able to use them throughout the rest of the year, once they had disappeared from the trees.

Here are 3 easy ways to preserve lemons whether you grow them yourself, receive them as gifts or buy them at the store:

Preserve whole lemons by freezing them

1. Freeze whole lemons. Did you know that you can freeze an entire lemon? This is an especially handy tip when you have too many lemons at once or if you have bought lemons and haven’t had time to use them right away. Simply place whole lemons in a plastic freezer bag and make sure to squeeze out all the air before freezing. When you are ready to use them, they will be somewhat ‘mushy’, but can still be zested and/or juiced. Place them in the microwave to help thaw them out or in a bowl of water for 15 minutes.

How to freeze whole zested lemons

You can also freeze whole, zested lemons, but be sure to cover them with foil first, to help keep them from drying out. This is a great tip when you need lemon zest, but not the juice right away.

DIY Freeze Lemon Zest

2. Freeze the lemon zest.  How often do you find yourself needing lemon zest for a favorite recipe.  Wouldn’t it be nice to simply reach into your freezer and grab a pinch or two of lemon zest?  Simply zest your lemon and place the zest in a plastic freezer bag.  The zest will keep its flavor for over a year!  Whenever you need it, take some out and add it directly to your dish.


3. Freeze lemon juice into ice cubes.  Lemon juice is used in all sorts of ways including in desserts, lemonade and savory dishes as well.  I freeze lemon juice in ice cube trays and then store them in plastic freezer bags.  They are the perfect size and easy to melt in the microwave.

*All of these freezing tips can be used for other types of citrus including grapefruit, limes and oranges.  So, make the most of your citrus, whether you harvest it or buy it at the supermarket with these helpful DIY garden tips!


Looking for Winter Finches

Rob Ripma

While in Toledo yesterday, I followed a tip from a friend and went looking for winter finches at a local park. Several winter finches had been seen here but one in particular got me very excited, a Hoary Redpoll! This bird would be a lifer (a bird I’ve never seen before)!

When my wife and I arrived at the park, we found two photographers looking at the Hoary Redpoll! It’s always awesome when the bird you want to see is so cooperative! Although Hoary Redpolls can be hard to identify, this individual has been in a flock with two Common Redpolls which makes the differences really stand out. You can see all of the recent reports of Hoary Redpoll on eBird.

You can see how this Hoary Redpoll has clean white undertail coverts.

You can see how this Hoary Redpoll has clean white undertail coverts.

In this shot, you can see the very small bill that helps to identify this as a Hoary rather than a Common Redpoll.

In this shot, you can see the very small bill that helps to identify this as a Hoary rather than a Common Redpoll.

Have you had any winter finches at your feeder?

Simple Valentine’s Day Wreath Craft

Jill Staake

A few weeks ago, when all the Christmas decorations were put away and the last of the glitter finally swept from the floor (I hope), I decided I wanted a few seasonal decorations to dress up the house just a little. It seemed too early for Valentine’s Day, but I wanted something along those lines to decorate my front door. Artificial silk flowers aren’t really my thing, but I took a spin through the floral section of my local craft store anyway. There, I discovered some fun flowers made of wood, of all things, and decided to design a simple wreath craft that I could use to showcase them.

Valentine's Day Wreath Craft

Simple Valentine’s Day Wreath Craft Materials

  • Heart-shaped grapevine wreath
  • Dried eucalyptus bunch, burgandy
  • Pink wooden flowers, 2 stems with 3 flowers each (I found these at Jo-Ann Fabric)
  • Brown wire (Regular green floral wire won’t blend properly for this wreath craft – find brown or copper wire in the jewelry section instead)
  • 24 inches of ivory ribbon
  • Wire snips
Valentine's Day Wreath Craft

These wooden flowers are sold three-to-a-stem in the floral section of Jo-Ann’s craft stores.

Simple Valentine’s Day Wreath Craft Assembly

  • Snip short lengths of eucalyptus stems and arrange around wreath as desired. Tuck stems into grapevine where possible, and use brown wire to secure as needed.
  • Trim each of the six flowers, leaving about 2 inches of stem attached to each flower. Arrange flowers as desired, tucking stems into grapevine and securing with brown wire as needed.
  • Hang wreath from ribbon loop as shown.

Valentine's Day Wreath Craft

I have this wreath hanging on the back of my front door, and I love that every time I enter the house, I get whiff of the spicy eucalyptus welcoming me home. This wreath craft is seasonal without being too cutesy – perfect for my style!

Looking for more home decor ideas? Check out the DIY Projects for the Home page here on Birds & Blooms.

Backyard Garden Mistake: A Giant Weed In Disguise!

Do you battle weeds in your garden?  Often, it’s not the large weeds that are a problem as much as the small ones that creep along the ground.

spurge weed SW

Perhaps the weed I hate most is spotted spurge.  It starts out so small and gradually creeps along the ground until if forms a large mass.

As a horticulturist, I am often called to consult with homeowners on their landscape.  I have assisted hundreds of homeowners and have seen quite a few unusual things, but this backyard garden mistake was quite remarkable and these homeowners could hardly believe it.

giant weed

As we were looking at the backyard landscape, my attention was drawn to the unusual shrub growing against the wall – I couldn’t figure out what it was from a distance.

large giant spurge weed mistaken for shrub

As I got closer, I still wasn’t sure what type of shrub it was until the homeowner gave me some clues.  He complained that there was a smaller ‘weed’ plant that kept trying to grow into the larger shrub.  He said that he kept cutting back the weedy plant so that the larger shrub could grow.  The shrub had been nicely staked and the homeowner was proud of how nicely it was growing.

giant spotted spurge mistaken for a shrub

As I looked at the base of the plant to see the ‘weedy’ interloper, I discovered that it was in fact the shrub that was supposed to be growing in this space – a Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) to be exact.

It turned out the large shrub that the homeowner had tenderly cared for was in fact a huge spotted spurge weed that was was growing upward, instead of sideways, due to the careful staking the homeowner had provided.

Large weed masquerading as a shrub

So how did this large weed get mistaken for a shrub, you may ask?  Often, small weeds can be growing in the containers of new plants – I see spotted spurge often growing next to new plants.  The homeowner was not familiar with the real shrub that was planted in this area, so as the weed grew, it quickly outpaced the growth of the originally intended plant.  Of course, it didn’t help that he kept trying to take out the original plant thinking it was a weed.

The homeowner had a good laugh at his unintended mistake and graciously allowed me to share it with all of you.  He has assured me that the huge weed is gone from his backyard garden and the original Baja fairy duster shrub is beginning to fill in.

The takeaway from this story, besides being humorous, is that when adding new plants, make sure that there aren’t any small weeds hitching a ride in the nursery container.  If so, make sure to pull them out.  As for me, despite my best efforts, I still get weeds in my own garden, which I treat with my homemade weed killer that uses two ingredients – vinegar and dish soap.  There are other homemade weed killer recipes out there which also include salt, but salt is not good for the soil or plants.  I’ve had great success without adding salt to my weed killer, which you can learn how to make for yourself here.

What weed do you hate the most in your backyard garden?


In Search of a Painted Bunting

Painted Buntings make just about every birder’s life list. My quest to see one was easier than I thought – once I looked in the right place.

Gomphrena in the Flower Garden

Gomphrena, also called Globe Amaranth, is an easy-to-grow annual for any flower garden and makes a great addition to dried bouquets.

Looking for Secretive Owls

Several owl species such as Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet can be very secretive and difficult to find.

Roosting in the Butterfly Garden

When butterflies need to rest or take shelter, they find a place to roost. Learn how to make your butterfly garden a safe place for roosting.

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