Thought I would do something fun for my blog this week and make a quiz to test your knowledge of the common names of some flowers.  Click on the link below and test yourself!  Good luck & Enjoy!!

View On FunnelBrain»

  The name cacti or cactus is used by many to group both cacti and succulents into one.   All cacti are native to the Americas with one exception, Rhipsalis baccifera the common name being mistletoe cactus.  Remembering that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti, you can begin to distinguish between the two.   There are always exceptions to every rule, but the following identification tips will help you to learn whether you have a cactus or a succulent.

Tips on Identifying a Cactus

  • Spines : Spines are the first feature most people recognize on a cactus.  They vary greatly in size, color and shape.  Spines are not thorns but rather modified leaves in the early stages of development.  Interestingly enough, as the cactus matures and the spines grow, the spines lose their characteristics of leaveWs and only have living cells at the base of the spine.  
  • Flowers : Cactus flowers are unique and complex.  The cacti will form what is called a floral tube on which the flowers form on top.
  • Leaves : Most cacti do not have visible leaves.  Some have evolved thickened and succulent looking leaves to prevent and lessen water loss.
  • Areoles : Areoles are unique to cacti.  They are wooly, hairy looking structures from which the flowers, spines and new growth emerge.

Want to see how well you know the difference between a cactus and a succulent?  Take this quiz.   Cactus or Succulent Quiz

You may be thinking, just how hard can it be to water?  During the hot summer days it can make the difference between beautiful plants and ones struggling to survive.

First you want to water deeply so the water reaches the entire root ball of your plant and to encourage deep roots.  It is better to water deeply two to three times weekly than it is to water shallow everyday.  Watering shallow everyday causes your plants to grow surface roots which dry out easier.   Avoid watering in the middle of the day when it is hottest to reduce evaporation of the water.   The best time to water is early in the morning when the temperature is cooler.  I discourage watering at night especially during the hot humid nights of summer.  Having your plants wet at night opens them to fungal disease, insects and bacterial disease. 

Container gardens have different requirements.  The plants in your containers are more exposed to the heat, sun and wind.  They dry out faster than what your plants in your beds do.  Your containers will most likely need to be watered daily during the summer, possibly twice if they have outgrown the pot and are starting to become rootbound.  The best way to tell is to stick your finger down into the soil, at least to the second knuckle.  If it is dry, you need to water.

Taking the time to water correctly always improves your plants chances of surviving the hot days of summer.  Many of them, if trimmed back and deadheaded, will provide a new flush of growth and flowers for you again in the fall. 

Just remember;  "Wake up your plants wet and put them to bed dry."

Mosquito on marigold flower
Summer is here and along with it are the mosquitoes.  Instead of reaching for the chemicals, try using a more natural way by planting these mosquito repellant plants. 

It is important to know that it is the compounds found in these plants that repel the mosquitoes.  Just placing these plants around your area without also protecting yourself is often not very effective for each individual.  By crushing, drying or infusing with oil it can be applied to your skin and clothes.  It's as simple as grabbing a handful of plant material and rubbing it on your skin and clothes when you go outside.   Planting mosquito repellant plants will also benefit your pets.  Microfilariae are parasites that give your pet heart worms and are transmitted by the mosquito.  Having these plants in your yard will help in reducing their exposure.

With the threat of the West Nile virus, the need for insect repellent when venturing outdoors is essential and necessary.  Many of your commerical products contain 5% to 25% DEET.  Not sure what DEET is?  Take this link: National Pesticide Information Center. The potential toxic effects of this chemical has always been a real concern for me.  Especially when being used on children.  

Mosquito Repellent Plants

Citronella Grass - Cymbopogon nardus
     Citronella grass is the most commonly used ingredient in natural insect repellants.  Very similar to lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) but with a much stronger and different smell.  To tell the difference between the two, just look at the stems.  Citronella grass has red stems, lemon grass stems are green. Citronella is a perennial ‘clumping’ grass which grows 5' - 6' tall.  It can be grown directly in the ground where frost does not occur, otherwise, use as an annual.

Horsemint - Monarda citriodora
    Native to the U. S. Plains, this drought tolerant plant grows up to 3' tall with lavender/pink colored flowers from May through July and possibly into September/October if watered.  Although it's an annual, it can reseed for the following year with the added bonus of being a great butterfly, hummingbird and bee attractor.  Read "The Importance of Bees" to learn more about the problems we are having with our worlds pollinators. 

Catnip - Nepta cataria
    A beautiful and easy to grow perennial with light purple flowers that bloom summer through the fall.  Research has shown that it is more effective than DEET.  Take this link to read more about it.  Catnip Repels Mosquitoes More Effectively Than DEET  
Marigolds - Tagetes spp.
    An annual bedding plant, marigolds repel more than just mosquitoes.  Marigolds have such a strong scent that mammals, insects and well as some people don't like them.  I've always planted marigolds in with my vegetable garden to keep away pests.

Eucalyptus - Eucalyptus spp.
    Eucalyptus oil has long been used as an insect repellant as well as other uses.  Caution must be used though.  When used externally eucalyptus is non-toxic, but taken internally eucalyptus is toxic.  Maureen McCracken is a master gardener in Mecklenburg County, NC.
and has written a short description of the benefits of eucalytus and is very informative. Medicinal Herbs: Eucalyptus

Rosemary - Rosemarinus officinalis
    Rosemary is not just used for cooking.  The strong scent rosemary gives off makes an excellent mosquito repellent.  "How to Use Rosemary Oil as an Insect Repellant" gives you a recipe for making your own.  Rosemary is drought tolerant and loves the heat.  Good drainage is a must.  Many cultivars are available from ground covers to upright

All comments and suggestions are subject to South Carolina conditions and do not necessarily pertain to any other part of the US.