Are Caster Bean Plants in Landscaped Gardens Dangerous?

castor plant 225x300 Are Caster Bean Plants in Landscaped Gardens Dangerous?

When pruning, or removing Caster plants from either the garden, or woodlands the only part of the plant that is dangerous to humans is the seed. The seeds resemble in shape an engorged wood tick, for which their latin name was derived. Each seed is a shiny and wholly unique design much like a human fingerprint, and care must be taken to keep the seed pods away from inquisitive children and pets.


Caster bean plants are part of a poisonous but very useful family of plants, the Euphorbia family. Plants in this family include The Rubber tree, and Tapioca plant, but while the milky white sap from many of the plants from this family are poisonous, in the Caster plant this is not the case. The plant originates from Africa, but has become naturalized accidentally in many places across the United States. It is in no way an actual bean.


The best way to remove this plant is by hand, and the plant should be discarded from the seasonal garden in a plastic bag to prevent its spread. Seeds may be saved from year to year to replant, but in a natural setting the suggested method is complete removal, to prevent the plant from taking over habitat area useful for native plants.

Photos Courtesy of: mccheek,

Tips: Always Check Fall Shrubs For Root Problems

img 1842 768x1024 Tips: Always Check Fall Shrubs For Root Problemsimg 1843 768x1024 Tips: Always Check Fall Shrubs For Root Problems

I know I’m not the only one of you who finds themselves making impulse purchases this time of year at the local garden center.  My most recent purchase was a tiny English Boxwood on sale for a couple dollars. The plant is adorable, and a cute if unexpected addition to the garden.

Why You Should Always Check The Roots of Fall Shrubs:

As the racks of fall plants roll into the garden stores, keep in mind that these, especially the slower growing varieties, have been kept in greenhouses specifically until this moment.  Most of these plants have been raised in relatively small containers for up to several years to save space in the greenhouses, and beneath what may look like a healthy growth of roots may be a container-bound root system.

If you feel the soil around your new plant flaking off in small sheets, pull back a section of the roots to do a quick check on the health of the original root system. This Boxwood displays what was once a very container-bound root system, and a few quick scores with a gardening knife will ensure that the plant suffers no ill effects from this condition, stimulating new root growth away from the center of the plant.

Legislation And Green Building In The Future

Maryland is one of several states that has passed cobblestones 300x199 Legislation And Green Building In The Futurelegislation offering up to an 8% tax credit off the total cost for new construction for projects that follow specific guidelines for green construction methods. As the Environmental Protection Agency continues to influence future construction methods across the United States, legislation is moving it’s way to the top of several states priority lists that would tax newly construction roadways that are not built up to new green methods. 

Bills that will tax builders on the installation of impermeable surfaces, like pavement roads and sidewalks, may make our asphalt roads a thing of the past. Pavement roadways and sidewalks have been linked with everything from run-off and pollution issues, to the heat island effect that keeps our cities several degrees warmer than the surrounding suburbs. This new construction trend will not only impact large construction companies, but also the smaller contractors that install driveways, sidewalks and patio slabs around homes.  Pavers may soon become the standard in all home improvement projects that add to your outdoor living space, including areas around pools and garden paths.

Many landscaping companies are already making ‘paver only’ plans for homeowners seeking driveway, patio, and pool area additions as they prepare for this change in building code that they anticipate to occur in the next few years nation wide. How will this effect you?  If you are planning any home additions that will involve pavement in the next few years, always ask a contractor to get you prices for both pavement, and paver installation.  Where pavers were once more pricey than asphalt to install, new taxation on impermeable surfaces may mean that pavers come at a better price, while raising the value of your home at the same time.


Photo Courtesy of: daviddesign

How Do I Choose Between Koi and Goldfish For My Backyard Pond?

img 1343 488x1024 How Do I Choose Between Koi and Goldfish For My Backyard Pond?

There are many varieties of fish that work well in backyard ponds, but the two most popular and easily kept fish are members of the Carp family; Koi and Goldfish. Both brightly colored and friendly, these fish make lively additions to a backyard pond, but their needs and behavior in the pond make them suitable to different environments.

While the immediately obvious difference between Koi and Goldfish is the relative size of each mature species, there are many different aspects of water gardening that should be taken into consideration when choosing the correct pond fish for your garden pond. These are the top five points I ask my clients to consider when they are selecting fish varieties for their garden ponds and fountains, and they will help you identify the best fish for you and your water feature.

Pond Construction:

The average backyard pond holds a few hundred gallons max, and is either a prefabricated form, or a hand dug pit covered by pond liner. For a pond to hold any fish, the middle of the pond should have a depth of at least 3-4 feet, to provide the fish with hibernation room, and places to hide from predators and hot summer weather. Goldfish can thrive in a pond of this approximate size and depth, while Koi breeders recommend a pond to hold a minimum of 2000 gallons for schools of Koi, a dramatically larger size than the average homeowner can fit in their yard. Another rather unusual problem that Koi can have is the issue of sunburn. A deep pond is necessary for housing Koi schools because the fish are prone to sunburn in shallow water, and can die from too much exposure to direct sun rays.

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Refurbished Tools Make A Great Green Gift For Spring Projects

3097850219 602c6e52a6 300x300 Refurbished Tools Make A Great Green Gift For Spring Projects

Earth Day is over, but buying refurbished tools for your lawn and garden project list is a great green way to aquire the tools you need, recycled and as good as new, right from the factory!

Whether you are looking for a new drill and bit set to help you put together your own raised garden bed walls, or want a new set of hedge trimmers, the folks over at “One Project Closer” have been helping DYI-ers around the house and yard for about a year now, and they have a great go-to list of manufacturer refurbished tool sales around the internet.  Many of the tools come with a full warranty, and are up to 50% less than what you would pay for a brand new tool, which helps your wallet, and is a more eco-friendly way to purchase your tools.  

Check out their article, and see if you can’t find the tools you need to complete your spring projects for a steal.


Photo Courtesy of: Robert S. Donovan 

Gardeners Reap Bedroom Benefits

img 0080 225x300 Gardeners Reap Bedroom Benefits

Apparently if you’re a man, the time and place for a ‘quickie’ is in the garden with your clothes on!

A new study by the Medical University of Vienna linked a half hour of moderate gardening activity to both increased sexual performance for men and decreased impotence, along with a myriad of other mood, and stress relieving benefits! The study determined that  about 30% of all performance related issued in men were impacted by depression, and job related stress, impacting blood pressure, and mood. Planting, weeding and mowing for only a half hour per week cut sexual issues in the bedroom by a third, and burned 1,000 calories. Urologists determined that men who increased their gardening activity and who burned 4,000 calories per week cut their impotence risk by 52%!

How does gardening benefit the bedroom bottom line? The physical exercise involved in gardening, and the Vitamin D absorbed through sun exposure lowers blood pressure, benefits circulation, stirs endorphins, and strengthens the immune system. It provides an outlet for stress release, and a moderate exercise routine that almost anyone can participate in, and, unlike gym equipment, this routine will give you beautiful end results from the curb to the front door, with the potential of a happier partner when you walk inside.

It’s just one more reason to love gardening.  Check out the full article from

No-Mess Pumpkin Decorating

front rg pots fall 2008 0071 150x150 No Mess Pumpkin DecoratingBetter Homes and Gardens is offering all the joys of pumpkin carving without all the mess! Whether you live in the city and find pumpkins on short order, or just want to keep the grandkids busy on a rainy afternoon, you can log on to this site and design away, printing out refrigerator ready pics when you are through! Check it out!


Diagnosing The Cause of Black Mold Spots In “Lucky Bamboo”

img 0366 300x225 Diagnosing The Cause of Black Mold Spots In “Lucky Bamboo”

Unfortunately even our home or office plants can become prone to diseases, no matter how great a life we try and provide for them.  Often a disease can be an indicator of another problem altogether in a plant.

This mold spot developed on the leaves of a friends Lucky Bamboo, after weeks of yellowing leaves on the previously healthy plant. My friend was at a loss as to what to do with it, and set the bamboo outside on her patio for the last months of the summer in the hopes that the yellowing leaves on the plant were due to a curable lack of sunlight.  Unfortunately, the yellowing leaves quickly gave bloom to black mold spots, a condition that seemed peculiar in the plants dry location. Not knowing what was wrong with her Lucky Bamboo, or if it was salvageble, she was prepared to throw the plant out and start over fresh, so I looked the plant over from top to bottom to find the problem.

Mold spores are one of many living organisms that are always present in the air, and that thrive in outdoor gardens, regardless of whether you ever see any signs of them on other plants.  They are also a opportunistic, and will take advantage of a plant that is suffering under other issues, as was the case with this particular plant. Here is one of the problems, many Lucky Bamboo plants are advertised as being a no-maintenance home or office plant, capable of living in a small container with no food source needed other than tap water.  Over time however, many of these plants begin to develop yellowing leaves, and mold spots like this, due to a lack of several things. Lucky Bamboo, like all plants needs water, and a reliable source of nutrients.  Mere tap water cannot meet their needs over time, and the plant actually need a reliable source of nutrition, whether they live in a glass of water, and recieve bi-monthly liquid fertilizers, or they are potted, and a give granular, or time release fertilizer.  The second problem with this plant was that after several years, this plant had outgrown its pot, and was what is known as “pot bound.”  A pot bound plant has a root system that has outgrown it’s container.  The roots of this Bamboo plant continued to grow naturally, as the plant seeks out more water and nutrients to feed the stems and leaves of the plant, but in a small container, the root system wraps around itself repeatedly with no where to go, and can kill itself if left alone.

img 0369 225x300 Diagnosing The Cause of Black Mold Spots In “Lucky Bamboo”In this case, the root bound plant was under stress in these cramped quarters, and responded by displaying limp and light yellow leaves.  When a plant is unable to take care of all of it’s foliage, it often begins to slowly shut down, letting leaves die, and fall off.  The yellowing leaves, and the weakened plant are then susceptible to other diseases, which in this case led to the plants current issue with black mold spots.

What To Look For In Cases Of Black Mold Spots In Home And Office Plants:

  • Over watered plants and wet soil
  • Poor drainage in the potting container
  • Overcrowded plant life
  • Pot-bound root systems
  • Poor fertilization, or a lack of fertilization
  • A home or office environment prone to high humidity and warm temperatures

What To Do With Plants Displaying Moldy Leaves:

  • Trim off any branches that are infected, and discard.

Almost any plant can be saved from mold if you catch the problem before most of the foliage is gone, discover the source of the problem, and find a remedy.  In the case of a root bound pot, the root system will be loosened and trimmed, and the plant will be repotted in a larger container with fertilizer.  The moldy foliage will be trimmed off, and the plant will rebound over a few months, and send out new growth.

Project BudBurst: How I Can Help Scientists Study Climate Change

seedlings formated1 300x298 Project BudBurst: How I Can Help Scientists Study Climate ChangeLast week I was watching the evening news, and saw more huge ice shelves dropping off glaciers in Canada, and was again hit with just how common this phenomenon is becoming.  How many times in even just the past two years have we seen these dramatic events unfold on national TV, showing us just how drastically things are changing in the world around us, whether or not we can feel the change in our own neighborhood yet?

Hindsight being 20/20, I’m sure I’m not the only person who laments the fact that I didn’t understand the philosophy and science of unnatural climate change until a few years ago. I’m not always sure if I believe that this wave of climate change is solely the result of human irresponsibility, but I’m sure that it factors in. Sure, there are things I would have done better in the past, to reduce my carbon footprint, and give back to my local ecosystem, but with the past firmly behind us, I went looking for a way that I could make a difference using my own gifts, and interests, and found a great way that I can help scientists monitor the changing climate by sharing with them what is going on in my own garden.

Project Budburst,” is an national online database thus far only available in the USA, that allows registered volunteers to document one, or many trees, flowers or shrubs in their local area.  The purpose of the site is to feed bloom, leaf, and dormancy times across the United States into a form usable by climate change scientists, who can then use the data to monitor changes in natural plant life cycles, and any changes in pollinator activity as related to changing global temperatures. The hope is that by by monitoring these plants beginning now, scientists will have a better idea of how to plant for the future, if and when more issues related to climate change impact the crops and environments we rely on.  The website is run by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, with support and funding from several government agencies, including the National Science Foundation.

There are large lists of targeted plants that scientists want specific data on, organized by state, that can be chosen by volunteers to document. I chose to monitor my own Forsythia bush in the front yard of my house, since I will walk by it everyday to and from work. Documenting the obvious will be easier for me than trying to monitor the many plants at work, where I will be bogged down by other concerns during the day.  I’m planning to monitor the plant for the next year, and log in to the “Project Budburst” database to share the dates I find for things like “leaf out,” “budding,” blooming,” etc.

The thing I like about this project, is that it allows me to feel like my yard is that much more useful, since I can assist in the scientific research that climatologists can’t collect on their own, and I can log in to see what other people’s findings are across the nation.  The reason I wanted to share this project with you is because any green minded person can find a garden plant, or urban street tree to monitor, and can help in some capacity these climatologists in their study of changing global patterns.

What do you think: What are your thoughts on “Project Budburst?”  Would you ever volunteer to assist in a climatology study, or do you think the data these groups collect are ”too little too late?”

What To Do With Injured Or Abandoned Wild Birds

dove 256x300 What To Do With Injured Or Abandoned Wild Birds

The activity level of wild bird populations in spring and early summer is obviously much higher than in the winter, and with newly fledged birds still learning to navigate through yards and buildings, there is an increased number of bird injuries near human populations.  From house-cat hunting injuries, window collisions, and nests being built in inappropriate places (like clothes dryer vents), there may come a time when you will want to know “what do I do with this bird?”

For young babies, and adult birds, whose survival seems likely, there are Wildlife Rehabilitators in your area who will be able to assist you in bringing your wild bird back to full health.  Most of these rehabilitators have received specialized training and licences to care for wildlife legally, and their services are free to the public.  There have been a few times in the past that I have asked a rehabilitator to take a bird, or a nest full of abandoned babies, and each time, they have not only been helpful, but have also given me valuable information about the species itself.

How To Find A Rehabilitator:

  • Ask your veterinarian if they can recommend anyone to you.
  • Contact the Ornithology Society, or group, active in your state.
  • Contact The Audubon Society, or a Wild Bird Store for local contacts
  • Call your local Humane Society, State Wildlife Agency, or City Animal Control office.
  • Check the US Fish and Wildlife Website, they will have a list for rehabilitators in your area.

For birds in need, visit this great resource, for a visual map, and checklist to help you discern the proper action to take for wounded, or abandoned birds. It also features a detailed list of the steps to take when securing baby birds for pick-up by a rehabilitator.

Your Thoughts: Have you ever run across an injured or abandoned wild bird?  What did you do?