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Christmas Centerpieces for Your Table: 10 Super Easy DIYs

A beautiful Christmas centerpiece adds the final touch of elegance and style to a holiday event. There are plenty of elaborate and expensive ideas out there, but you can easily DIY a beautiful arrangement on your own with just a few supplies. You’ve probably got many of these supplies kicking around your house already, and if you haven’t, we’ve got most of them at the garden center. Swing by and pick up a few next time you’re running errands around Bettendorf.

1. Water Features

You’ll need a glass container, water, and some feature items. Simply add your feature items to a few jars or vases, fill them with water, and arrange them on your table. Cranberries are a beautiful option, but you can use almost any Christmasy thing you like. A few evergreen sprigs, some holly with berries, or even pinecones look gorgeous underwater. You can add a lid and a pretty ribbon if you like, set a floating candle on top, or fill the top with some gorgeous contrasting cut flowers.

2. Highlight the Beauty of Fruit

This delightful centerpiece doubles as an appetizer! Arrange a layer of evergreen boughs in a fruit bowl, and then pile on an arrangement of holiday fruits like apples, pomegranates, clementines, figs, oranges, or pears, and then add a few cinnamon sticks and assorted nuts to finish it off.

3. Mason Jars for Everything

Maybe it’s getting a bit cliche, but mason jars are so dynamic for DIY projects, and they’re perfect for centerpieces. You can fill them partway with white craft sand, Epsom salts, or fake snow, and set small LED candles, pine cones, or small holiday ornaments, inside. Sprinkle a little extra salt or fake snow overtop to give them a dusted look.

4. Upcycle a Wooden Crate or Box

Sometimes Christmas oranges come in cute little wooden crates. DIY them into a centerpiece. Add a 1 or 3 (odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye) LED pillar candles, and tuck an assortment of evergreen boughs, holly and berries, and pinecones around them.

5. Make Birch Cookies

No, we’re not baking anything here. Tree cookies are just a slice of tree trunk a few inches thick, usually with the bark still on. Birch is a beautiful option. You can use a few different sizes and heights and arrange them together on your table. Get a few LED candles, maybe some ribbon, and a few small Christmas ornaments, and arrange them on and around the birch cookies.

6. Birch Pole Bundle

Make a bundle of birch poles or branches about 16-20 inches long. Wrap a pretty holiday ribbon around the middle and make a bow. You can tuck in a few sprigs of evergreens to add a little extra interest.

7. Get out the Spray Paint

A couple of cans of spray paint, in white, gold, and silver (or whatever other festive colors you like) make centerpieces easy. First, collect some fallen twigs from around your yard. Bring them inside and let them dry overnight. Then, spray paint an old tin can or an old wine bottle white. Then spray paint your collected twigs gold or silver. Once everything is dry, tie a festive ribbon around the bottle, arrange the shiny twigs in it, and pop it on your table.

8. Brown Paper Packages Tied Up with Strings

Wrap some small boxes or packages in holiday wrapping paper or brown packing paper. If you don’t have any boxes, tiny painting canvases from the craft store in assorted sizes are perfect. Tie some pretty string or ribbons around them and arrange them with some greenery and pinecones on the table.

9. Mini Wreaths

Small holiday wreaths, 8-12”, are the perfect addition to classic candles. Simply lay the wreath down, add a pillar candle, or three, to the middle, and you have a centerpiece. If you want you can tuck in some extra greenery, holly berries, pine cones, or cinnamon sticks, to fill in any gaps between the candle and the wreath.

10. Upside Down Wine Glass Candle Holder

Choose a few small ornaments, sprigs of an evergreen bough, or pinecones. Turn your wine glass upside down, and set it over your feature ornaments. Then tie a coordinating ribbon around the stem of your glass, and set a candle on the base of the glass.

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Whether you forgot to get a centerpiece for the holiday table, or you just want to make your own, there are so many amazing ideas out there. Have a quick look through Pinterest and have a go at DIY-ing something that strikes your fancy. Your friends and family will be impressed when they find out the beautiful holiday centerpieces on your table were designed by you. Don’t forget, tiny twinkle lights make everything better, and since they come with battery packs they’re easy to add to any holiday arrangement.

Swing by the garden center to pick up a few supplies, or sign up for a class, and get creative!

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The Best Living Holiday Ornaments & Inspiration

Adding living plants to your holiday Christmas decor is easier than it might seem. Incorporating live plants into your holiday decor brings a sense of vibrancy and natural beauty that you just can’t get with artificial plants. We’ve put together a festive list of our favorite ways to decorate with live holiday ornaments in Iowa, and two tutorials for fun holiday decor with houseplants.

Houseplants on a Christmas Tree

We think adding houseplants to the Christmas tree gives it a unique and elegant look. Here are a few innovative ways to add some of your favorite houseplants to your tree decor. The very best part about all of these ideas is that you can keep them out well after Christmas.

Glass Ornaments

Glass ornaments with openings can act like tiny terrariums. You can find open-sided glass ornaments in a variety of sizes and styles at our garden center. You can keep them super simple, popping a single air plant or a sprig of evergreen into each one, or get more creative by crafting a miniature ecosystem.

Get the kids involved and create tiny Christmas fairy garden terrariums. Using sphagnum moss as a base, you can create a tiny holiday scene in each one. Small pieces of an evergreen branch can stand in as a tiny Christmas tree. Hanging these on your Christmas tree, or placing them around the house, adds understated elegance and simplicity to your decor.

Wire Ornaments

Simple metal or wire ornaments in classic holiday shapes, like stars or bells, are very trendy right now. Using wire, attach a grouping of air plants or succulents to one of these ornaments, and you’ve got a beautiful mid-century modern living ornament for your home.

Terra Cotta Pots & Macrame

Macrame has come back in a BIG way in the last year or two. Our favorite versions for the holidays are tiny macrame hangers for 1-2″ terra cotta pots. You can hang these on your Christmas tree for delightfully unique ornaments. If you’ve never done macrame before, don’t be intimidated. There are numerous videos online on how to make simple macrame plant hangers. Pop a tiny bit of soil and a mini succulent, “baby” spider plant, or other small plants into the terra cotta pot, and you’ve got some super cute living ornaments for your Christmas tree.

Our Favourite Live Christmas Decor

Evergreen boughs are a classic living Christmas decoration. There are so many different kinds of evergreens available, you can never go wrong with adding some branches to your holiday decor. Whether you add some to pots on the front porch, arrange them in vases on the table, draped over the mantle, or made into a wreath, evergreens always add a traditional Christmas feel to your home.

Amaryllis is a perennial favorite holiday plant. They’re elegant and simple with dramatic flower bracts, which makes them a classic central element for a Christmas centerpiece. Because their stems and leaves are tall and slender, amaryllis won’t block your view of the happy faces around the table!

Paperwhites are another classic Christmas bulb that compliments amaryllis well. They’re also tall and slim, but they feature beautiful bunches of white star-shaped flowers that complement the voluptuous, colorful blossoms of amaryllis.

We often associate floral arrangements with warmer days, but there are tons of beautiful flowers that work very well with Christmas decor. Classic red and white roses, or red and white carnations, have a decidedly Christmas-y feel when paired with greenery. Holiday floral arrangements combine nicely with sprigs of eucalyptus, ivy, or holly.

Tiny potted living evergreen trees are delightful both indoors and outdoors. You can get different varieties and place one in each room of the house, or use them to line your front walkway. It’s fun to decorate each tiny tree with a different theme. Strings of tiny fairy lights make them just as romantic as a full-sized tree.

Our absolute favorite live decor has to be our Table Top Grinch Trees. Combining living cedar greenery, a cute pot, and some adorable ornaments, these fun evergreen designs are always a bestseller. We also hold seasonal workshops in which we show you how to create your own unique Whoville tree. These stunning arrangements keep on living right into the new year if you keep them watered. Sign up for our upcoming class on December 4th to learn how to make your own. If you can’t make it to this class, we’ve got so many others coming up featuring ideas for live holiday decor, including:

Sterling Silver Snowflake Jewelry, November 30, 9-11 AM, $25-$50

Holiday Porch Pot, November 30, 12:30-2:30 PM, $20

Vintage Santa, November 30, 12:30-2:30 PM, $60

Mini Birch Evergreen Holiday Centerpiece, November 30, 3-5 PM, $25

Succulent Christmas Tree, December 2, 6-8 PM, $20

Holiday Grapevine Wreath, December 3, 6-8 PM, $39

Holiday Creation Station, December 3, 6-8 PM, $20

Holiday Angel Painting, December 3, 6-8 PM, $45

Tabletop Grinch Tree, December 4, 6-8 PM, $40

Holiday Porch Pot, December 5, 5-8 PM, $20

Garden to Glass: Holiday Part 2, December 5, 6-8 PM, $35

Holiday Porch Pot, December 7, 9-11 AM, $20

Holiday Centerpiece, December 7, 12-2 PM, $20

You can sign up for any of our workshop classes online or in person at our garden center. By the way, if you’re really set on making a Grinch Tree but can’t make it the workshop on the 4th, let us know! You can always come to the Holiday Creation Station workshop on the 3rd instead, but if we get enough interest, we may consider adding in another Grinch Tree workshop for our friends in Des Moines!

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How to Make Your Holiday Greenery Last

Festive evergreen boughs are the foundation of so many gorgeous holiday arrangements. They show up everywhere in your seasonal decor—from bouquets to wreaths, planters to garlands. Not only are evergreen cuttings beautiful, but their scents are hallmarks of the season. The only downside is they tend to dry out extremely fast and start dropping needles all over your floor.

So, how can you keep your beautiful natural Iowa evergreens vibrant and crisp all season?

Here are a few quick tips:

Buy them fresh. The sooner you can purchase greenery after it has been cut, the better. The longer boughs sit in the open air without water, the faster they dry out.

Choose boughs from evergreens that grow easily in Iowa. Try Eastern White Pine, Red Cedar, Balsam Fir, Common Juniper, and Yew.

Keep them outside as long as possible. The cold weather will help maintain their dormancy and keep sap moving through them as slowly as possible, helping your greenery to stay greener!

Soak cuttings in water before you create your arrangement. If you’re going to create an arrangement with fresh boughs, give them a good soak first. Cut evergreen stems like you would fresh flowers, then let them sit in a bucket of water for 24 hours so they can soak up as much water as possible. Even wreaths should be soaked. If you can, lay your wreath flat in a few inches of water overnight.

Spray greenery with an anti-desiccant. Anti-desiccant spray, also known as anti-transpirant, helps to lock moisture into needles and branches. You can pick up an anti-desiccant at our garden center. Giving your greens a good spray before you start arranging will help them retain moisture as long as possible.

Keep arrangements in water. If you’re creating an arrangement in a container, make sure the stems of the evergreens are submerged in water. Keep them in a vase or a bucket of some sort inside your planter. Check the water level daily; evergreens are thirsty things.

Mist evergreen cuttings daily. Especially indoors, evergreens will dry out much faster than outside. Give them a good spray over every day so they can soak in a little extra moisture.

Keep your finished arrangements in the shade, away from heat and direct sun. Direct sunlight will cause them to dry out faster. Being too warm, or located too close to a heat source, will also accelerate dehydration.

If you’re using lights in your arrangement, use LEDs. LED lights don’t produce heat, whereas incandescent lights get very warm and dry out your evergreen needles.

Consider adding non-traditional greenery. Rosemary, boxwood, and potted ferns can add a touch of brilliant greenery to your winter decor, and they last quite a bit longer than traditional evergreens. You could also use potted evergreen trees and shrubs in your decor, which could then be potted out into your yard in the spring.

If you’re not quite sure how to get started making an evergreen holiday arrangement, join us for one of our upcoming classes! You’ll learn from the pros how to make a variety of different Christmas-themed arrangements. You won’t believe how easy it is to create a stunning holiday arrangement for your home!

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Top 15 Delightful Houseplants for 2020

Houseplants have seen a surge in popularity across the states in the last few years, and they’re just as popular in Iowa as anywhere else. With 2020 around the corner, the houseplant trend isn’t going anywhere.

In 2019, the list of most popular houseplants in Iowa was dominated by tropical beauties that are super easy to grow, like Snake Plant and ZZ Plant. Now that people have gotten a taste of the joys of houseplants, it looks like they’re starting to branch out a bit and take on plants that are a little more challenging, like African Mask. Plant sharing is becoming more popular too, so things that are easy to propagate, like Chinese Money Plant, are still on the list.

Here are 15 gorgeous houseplants that are about to be wildly popular in 2020.

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Swiss Cheese Plant

Swiss Cheese Plant, or Monstera deliciosa, has the potential to grow to a massive scale. In their native environment, from Southern Mexico to Panama, they grow up to 30′ tall. It’s dramatic split leaves are visually striking, adding drama to any room. Swiss Cheese Plant is a statement piece. They will tolerate low light fairly well, but they grow faster in a bright room. Native to the dappled shade of the rainforest, Swiss Cheese Plant can’t tolerate direct sun, so don’t get them too close to south-facing windows. Now and then, wipe the leaves with a damp cloth or sponge to clean the dust off.

String of Pearls

String of Pearls are unique succulents that looks beautiful when trailing over the edges of hanging pots. It genuinely resembles a string of green pearls. This popular succulent is pretty easy to care for, too. It needs well-draining soil, like a cactus mix, in a shallow pot. Fertilizer can cause root burn, so don’t fertilize more than once a year in spring. This succulent likes bright light, but not direct sun, which can be too intense for this delicate plant. If it’s struggling near a south window, move it away. It doesn’t need much water; the soil should be dry before watering again. String of Pearls is very easy to propagate—just snip off a section of pearls and tuck the cut end into the soil.

String of Hearts

String of Hearts, or Rosary Vine, is another popular trailing plant. It has delightful soft green heart-shaped leaves with white veins. It looks beautiful in a hanging pot. String of Hearts loves heat, but not direct sun. It thrives near a west-facing window. While not technically a succulent, it likes similar care to succulents like String of Pearls, and the soil should dry out between watering. This plant is sensitive to overwatering.

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Rubber Tree 

Rubber Tree, or Ficus elastica, is another popular house plant with the potential to grow big and bold. It has shiny dark green leaves and is an excellent complement to minimalist decor. Rubber Tree isn’t actually made of rubber, but it is very easy to care for! Keep yours in a bright room but out of direct sunlight. Don’t water until the top inch or two of soil is completely dry. You can keep their size in check with regular pruning, but if left to its own devices, this plant will grow and grow. The sap from Rubber Tree is a known skin irritant, so wear gloves when pruning or repotting.

Ruby Rubber Tree

Ruby Rubber Tree, or Variegated Rubber Tree, has variegated leaves with green centers, white edges, and hints of pink. Often the middle stem of leaves will be red. Ruby has similar care requirements to the standard Rubber Tree, although its need for bright indirect light is even more critical. Poor lighting will cause the vibrant colors of this variety to fade.

Rubber Tree Tineke

Tineke Rubber Tree, or Burgundy Rubber Tree, is very similar to Ruby, but it is a little more compact with deeper red tones. It has the same care requirements as Ruby, and bright indirect light is very important for color retention. Love what you’re reading? Sign up to our email newsletter, and get inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

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ZZ Black Raven 

ZZ Plant is probably the easiest low-light plant to care for. With its recent resurgence in popularity, more varieties of ZZ Plant are available than ever. Black Raven is a favorite because of its extremely dark, nearly black leaves. It’s a striking contrast to the classic brighter greens of most house plants. Black Raven ZZ Plant should not get direct sun. Although it does need some light, it will grow well in offices or bathrooms with less light. The new leaves emerge in a shade of vibrant green and shift to deep purple-black over time. 

Raindrop Peperomia

Raindrop Peperomia, also known as Peperomia polybotrya, Owl Eye Peperomia, or Coin Leaf Peperomia, commonly gets mistaken for Chinese Money plant, but the leaves have slightly different shapes. Raindrop Peperomia’s leaves are a distinct water droplet shape. It is suitable for smaller spaces as it won’t usually get more than 1′ tall. It needs bright light but should be kept out of the direct afternoon sun. Raindrop Peperomia is a succulent, so let the soil dry out between waterings. 

Sansevieria

Sansevieria, also known as Snake Plant, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, or Viper’s Bowstring Hemp, might tie with the ZZ plant for the title of “easiest plant to care for.” You can forget to water Sansevieria for weeks, and they don’t seem to care. In fact, they’re more sensitive to overwatering than infrequent watering. They’ll do well in low light situations, and are also easy to propagate from cuttings. There are many different varieties available with beautiful patterns and colors. 

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Starfish Snake Plant

Sansevieria Starfish, or Starfish Snake Plant, has thick cylindrical leaves that spread out in all directions like the legs of a starfish. The leaves have stripes of alternating light and dark green. Their care requirements are the same as all other Sansevieria.

Fernwood Snake Plant

Sansevieria Fernwood, or Fernwood Snake Plant, also has cylindrical leaves, with slightly wider strips than Starfish. The leaves grow in a tight cluster that arch out a little as they get taller. The care requirements are the same as all other Sansevieria.

Rattlesnake Plant 

Rattlesnake Plant, or Rattlesnake Prayer Plant, has light green leaves with dark purple stripes and spots, and purple undersides. The leaves have slightly ruffled edges, giving the plant an intriguing appearance. Rattlesnake Plants prefer medium to low-light locations; direct sun will burn the leaves. It likes damp, but not waterlogged, soil. Overwatering will cause it the leaves to wilt, and if it’s left dry for too long, the leaves will start to curl and may turn brown.

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Calathea Orbifolia

Calathea Orbifolia is another popular variety of Prayer Plant. It has large bright green leaves with dazzling silvery-blue stripes. This variety is a little harder to find, but it’s a beautiful addition to any home. Like Rattlesnake Plant, Calathea Orbifolia prefers medium to low-light conditions and evenly damp soil.

Chinese Money Plant

Chinese Money Plant, or Pilea peperomioides, is also a super easy-care low-light plant that happens to be absolutely adorable. It has pretty round leaves at the top of long skinny stems. Chinese Money Plant is an excellent plant for sharing with friends because it regularly sends up new little baby plants all around its base. This cheerful plant will start to turn yellow or brown if exposed to too much water or direct sunlight.

Elephant Ear Alocasia

African Mask, also known as Alocasia sanderiana or Elephant Ear plant, is a bit higher maintenance than others on this list, but its exotic colors are worth the effort. It has arrowhead-shaped, nearly black leaves with striking white veins. It offers an exciting contrast to more common houseplant varieties. Elephant Ears require bright but indirect light, and moist, but well-draining soil. It’s best to water this plant in the morning. They need plenty of humidity and warmth, and regular fertilizer during the spring and summer growing season.

If you haven’t tried any of these gorgeous houseplants, visit our garden center in Cumming, Iowa. You’ll love browsing our selection of the most popular houseplants for 2020, along with gorgeous pots to go with them.

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10 Winter Survival Tips for Your Houseplants

We aren’t the only ones struggling with the shorter days, colder temperatures, and drier air here in Iowa. Our houseplants are also affected by the lower light levels, frigid drafts, and arid air from our furnaces. 

However, these harsh conditions don’t have to mean certain death for your household greenery. Here’s how to protect your indoor plants through the winter.

Keep a consistent temperature. Move your plants away from heat registers, radiators, and drafty entryways. Most houseplants prefer between 65-75 ̊F and are fine with a little dip in temperature at night. However, drastic temperature changes, like those they might experience near a radiator, heat register, or even too close to the front door, can be shocking for plants. 

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Turn plants toward the light. As your plants seek out more light, they may unbalance themselves. If you notice them leaning towards a window, turn their pot to get them to straighten up again. You may need to turn them regularly throughout winter.

Find a sunnier spot. As the sun gets lower, some areas in our homes may get more or less direct light. If the light has changed drastically in one spot, consider moving your plants a bit to suit their ideal light preferences. If you don’t get very much light into your home in the winter, you may want to consider getting a grow light or two to help your plants through the shortest days of the year.

Don’t let leaves touch glass window panes. Glass can get really cold when it’s chilly outside, and when plant tissue sits against it, it can give your plant a nasty case of frostbite. 

Boost the humidity. Most plants thrive in 40-50% humidity, and some, like tropicals, even appreciate a little more. Furnaces dry out the air like crazy. You can recreate that humidity by grouping your plants closer together, misting your plants regularly, adding some pebble trays underneath your plant pots, or running a humidifier in rooms where you keep plants. 

Adjust your watering schedule. If you watered your houseplants weekly in the summer, you’ll need to change up your schedule for the winter. Some plants may only need water every ten days, while some may need to be watered every five days. Check the soil with the tip of your finger; if it’s dry down to half an inch or an inch, it’s ok to water. If possible, use room temperature water. Let the water sit for a day inside your watering can to allow it to come to room temperature and let any chlorine evaporate. 

Cut back your fertilizing. Houseplants in Iowa do not need fertilizer in winter. Give your plants a break on the feeding for the winter, and start back up in spring. 

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Give your plants a shower or bath. When our furnaces kick in, it seems to stir up a lot of dust that we didn’t even know was there. Dusty leaves can hamper your plant’s ability to breathe and photosynthesize. Your plants will benefit from a wipe down of the leaves or an actual gentle spray from the showerhead in your bathroom. 

Do some light pruning. Clip back tall and leggy stems and yellowing leaves to encourage new growth for spring. 

Keep your eyes peeled for pests. Our houseplants are particularly vulnerable to pest infestations as they adjust from summer to winter conditions. Keep a close watch on the stems and the undersides of leaves for signs of pests.

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Your houseplants may require a little extra care through the winter, but it’s an excellent way to keep your green thumbs active. A bit of indoor gardening is good for our health, too!

If you have any questions about how to care for your houseplants through the winter, stop by our garden center in Cumming. We can help you keep your houseplants alive through the winter so they can thrive again next spring.

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How to Get Started With Backyard Birding: The Basics

If you want to get started with birdwatching, or “birding,” in your backyard, you’ll need a few basic things; food, water, and shelter. It really is that simple. However, knowing how to use those tools to attract birds is a little more involved. 

There are over 150 types of birds that are common to Des Moines. Many of them overwinter in Iowa, and they would be happy to stop by your backyard bird buffet. It’s a joyful moment for beginner “birders” when you start to recognize the visitors that frequent your property. On top of the warm feeling of getting to know your winged neighbors, you can also feel good about your role in their survival. All it takes is filling up feeders and refreshing their water now and then. 

Common Iowa backyard birds we’ll see in winter include chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, cardinals, mourning doves, blue jays, finches, titmice, and woodpeckers. Dark-eyed juncos, sparrows, and purple finches come south to Iowa for the winter. Occasionally, redpolls, grosbeaks, and pine siskins will make an appearance as well. So, how can you get all these cute feathery creatures to visit your yard? Here’s all you need to know to start attracting some feathered friends. 

birds at bird feeder

Food for Your Backyard Birds

Naturally, one of the main things that will attract birds to your yard is bird food—but don’t just grab the first bag of birdseed or the first feeder you come across! Different birds like different types of food. Some of the most popular things are nyjer seed, sunflower seeds, insects, peanuts, suet, berries, and fruits. 

Birds don’t like stale food, so if they’re not eating what you’ve put out, trying replacing it with fresh food. 

Setting up a Feeding Station

When you’re setting up a bird feeding station in your yard, you’ll want to make sure you choose a good location. There are three guidelines for perfect placement:

  1. Protected: somewhere that’s protected from the wind, and that will get some sun, the south side of your house is best.
  2. Safe Exits: birds need a safe escape, and somewhere to hide, so within 10-15 feet of a tree or shrubs is ideal.
  3. Visible: If you’re going to enjoy these birds, make sure you can easily see your feeding station from your windows.

Lots of birds don’t like to share their outdoor bird feeders, and some prefer different types of feeders, so you may want to have a few different styles. A tall round feeder with big enough holes for peanuts will be popular with woodpeckers. Something with edges to sit on and a roof over the top will be popular with sparrows. A skinny feeder with a perch by each feeding hole will be popular with chickadees. Some birds also prefer to eat from the ground, so you could provide a tray underneath your feeders that will catch dropped seed for ground feeders. You can also spread seed on an old stump for some of your birds. Suet can be hung in cages from trees.

Most backyard birds are generally ok with being reasonably close to buildings, so you can keep the feeders within 10-15 feet of the house for best visibility. There are bird feeder stands available that allow you to hang up to 4 feeders from the same post, offering lots of choices for your bird friends. 

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Offering Birds a Water Source

Like us, birds need to drink water, even in winter. Also, it’s a myth that birds will have a bath, soak their feathers, and then freeze to death on horrible icy days. Birds are smarter than that; they know how to keep themselves safe and warm.

Birdbaths are easy enough to maintain in summer, but keeping open water through the winter is a little more tricky. A heated dog dish is one of the most affordable options for keeping water available. Or, you can get a heater disk to add to an existing birdbath. 

The water shouldn’t be more than 1-2 inches deep, so you’ll want to find a reasonably large rock to place in the middle of the dish. Many birds will be happy standing on the rock, but some prefer twigs or branches. If you have spruce boughs available, you can place some of those around the outside edge of the water dish, so little birds have somewhere to sit.

It’s important to make sure the water is clean. Because birds tend to relieve themselves wherever they are, you’ll want to clean out the water dish and refill it with fresh water about once a week.

bird on branch

Somewhere to Shelter

The best backyard bird garden will have lots of places for birds to take shelter. A variety of shrubs and trees, evergreens and deciduous, will make your yard inviting for birds all year round. Shrubs and trees with berries—like dogwood, chokeberry, winterberry, hawthorn, and holly—are popular with a wide variety of birds. 

If you’ve got birdhouses up in your yard, you can clean them out for winter, but don’t put them away. Some birds will still use them to take cover through extra frigid nights.

Dealing with Squirrels

If you’ve got trees and shrubs and bird feeders, there’s a good chance you have squirrels. They can be a pest, but they’re also not the worst creature on the planet. There are plenty of excellent squirrel-proof feeders on the market that can make it more difficult for them to steal bird food. But, since squirrels are very intelligent, they’re likely to figure out a way eventually. 

Generally, the best and most humane solution to keep squirrels out of your bird feeders is to let them have their own feeding station somewhere else in your yard. A cheap feeder stocked with nyjer or sunflower seeds will keep them busy and mostly away from your bird feeding station.

image of bird sticker on window

The Window Problem

It’s always sad when a bird hits the window. However, there are easy solutions to keep them from mistaking your glass for open skies. Reflective stickers or tape are great options, but you’ll find more products to prevent bird-to-window collisions at our garden center.

Once you get started with backyard birding you’ll enjoy observing these delightful creatures all winter. When your feeders are all set up, make sure to keep your camera or phone handy—you never know who might visit your bird buffet!

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15 Non-Toxic Houseplants That Are Safe for Kids & Pets

Kids and pets alike seem drawn to grabbing and tasting houseplants. Some houseplants are totally safe, and some can make people and animals quite sick. Cats, in particular, seem to like to floss their teeth on the fronds of plants. Whether you’ve got curious kiddos around, or perplexing pets that like to chew on your houseplants, it’s important to know which houseplants are safe for them.

There are plenty of common houseplants that are actually quite toxic to humans and animals. As adults, we generally don’t eat pieces of our houseplants, so we don’t often think about it. Just because a houseplant is toxic, doesn’t mean you need to get rid of it completely (unless you have cats that are determined to eat it). There are lots of ways to keep toxic greenery out of reach of curious fingers and mouths, including hanging baskets, high shelves, and careful supervision. There’s a wide variety of gorgeous houseplants available at our garden center, and growers generally don’t label whether plants are toxic are not.  

As fall zips by here in Iowa, make sure you’re up to date on what plants are safe for your family before you stock up your indoor garden with new plant babies. 

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Toxic Indoor Plants

While we want to focus on non-toxic plants, we thought we should mention a few common indoor plants that are poisonous and could make your family members sick. If you have these plants in your house, place them well out of reach of little hands and paws.

  • Pothos
  • Philodendron
  • English Ivy
  • Hyacinth
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Arrowhead Vine
  • Lilies (cause kidney failure in cats, do not let them sniff the pollen or chew on any lilies)
  • Caladium (Also called Elephants Ears, Pink Cloud, and Mother-in-Law Plant, angel wings, or heart of Jesus)
  • Snake Plant (also called Mother-in-Law’s Tongue)

Non-Toxic Houseplants

Not all houseplants are toxic, so don’t despair. Here are 15 that are safe for kids, cats, and dogs. They still shouldn’t go on a houseplant munching adventure, but if they do ingest a few nibbles of these, they will be ok.

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1. Christmas Cactus (or Easter or Thanksgiving Cactus)

Holiday cactuses are popular houseplants in Iowa, with colorful and unusual shaped blooms. The secret to getting them to bloom for the holidays is to cut back a bit on watering 6-8 weeks before you want them to bloom. Wait until the top half-inch of soil is dry before watering.

2. Boston Fern (also called Sword Fern)

Boston ferns like a relatively cool environment, between 6-75F, with lots of humidity. If its fronds are fading to yellow, it needs more humidity. You may need to mist it daily in the fall and winter, keep it on a pebble tray, or run a humidifier near it.

3. African Violet

Keep this lovely bloomer happy by keeping it in a pot about 1/3 the size of the plant, letting it soak up water from below, and fertilizing it with African Violet fertilizer regularly. Don’t get the leaves wet; they’re a bit delicate.

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4. Peperomia

Peperomia is pretty easy to care for, but remember, they prefer to be away from a window. Direct light on their leaves can cause them to burn. Water your peperomia when the top 1-2 inches of soil is dry.

5. Baby’s Tears 

Baby’s Tears prefers a wide, shallow pot so that it can spread out and drape over the edges. Keep it out of direct sunlight. 

6. Prayer Plant

Prayer Plant is another low-light easy-care option. They do not like direct sun and will tolerate a random or inconsistent water schedule quite well. They do like humidity, so mist them regularly.

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7. Parlor Palm

Also called Neanthe Bella Palm, Parlor Palms are another humidity lover. Mist them regularly and keep them away from sunny windows. They prefer bright indirect light. 

8. Spider Plants

Spider Plants are notoriously resilient and will put up with significant abuse. Cats may be particularly attracted to spider plants as they’re a little bit like catnip. It’s completely safe for your cat to chew on them, but if they won’t leave it alone and the plant is suffering, try hanging it out of reach.

9. Sensitive Plant

These fascinating plants will tolerate some direct sun, but they like their soil to be moist without being soggy. Sensitive plants are popular with kids because they react so immediately to touch. 

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10. Haworthia Pearl Plant

This aloe lookalike is the perfect non-toxic alternative. It’s a typical succulent and will appreciate some sun, and for its soil to dry out an inch or two between watering.

11. Phalaenopsis Orchids

Phalaenopsis orchids, or moth orchids are one of the most common orchids available. Orchids may seem finicky, but they simply prefer care on a consistent schedule. Water phals on a regular basis, and keep them in indirect sunlight to keep them happy.

12. Fittonia

The distinctive white and green leaves of Fittonia, also known as Nerve Plant are a striking contrast to the usual houseplants. It does prefer moist soil, so check it regularly. In the fall and winter, Fittonia may need to be watered up to twice a week.

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13. String of Pearls

This unique succulent likes sunshine and heat. It prefers dry soil, so make sure you don’t leave it sitting in water. It loves to trail over the edges of its container, so give it some room to do that.

14. Hens and chicks

Hens and chicks also like warm and dry conditions. They’ll spread and fill their pot with adorable little baby plants. Hens and chicks come in a wide variety of colors and textures. 

15. Burro’s Tail

Another succulent that likes to trail over the edge of its pot, burro’s tail looks awesome in hanging planters.

You don’t have to give up on houseplants just because you have curious pets or children around. The plants above can add lots of beauty, interest, and fresh air to your home, and you can be confident that they’re safe for your family. If you’re not sure about the toxicity of a plant, a quick google search can help you find out. Or, if you’re near us in Iowa, come by the garden center and have a chat with our staff; we’ll help you find some beautiful and safe options for your home.

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The Best Plants for a Dreamy Terrarium

Terrariums are taking over Iowa homes—and for good reason. People are really embracing the trend of bringing nature into their homes. Unlike house plants, once you’ve put a terrarium together, they’re nearly maintenance-free, which makes them excellent options for busy students and professionals. They also inspire creativity and imagination. Your terrarium doesn’t have to be for plants alone; they can also include tiny decorations or figurines, creating any scene you can imagine. It certainly would be nice to stare into a tiny green world while all of the Iowa area is covered in snow!

While you can plant almost any plant in a terrarium, there are a few types of plants that are better suited to this particular environment. The main thing to remember when selecting plants is to make sure they all have similar water and light requirements. If you have a shade-loving plant and a sun worshipper in the same container, one of them is going to be very unhappy, and trying to compromise will leave them both to suffer.

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Our Top 9 Plants for Terrariums

You can design a terrarium for succulents and cactus type plants, but it’s a bit more work to tweak the environment so it’s just right for them. A humid rainforest environment is probably the easiest to replicate and maintain. Sealed or open, having plants with similar water and light needs will make your miniature oasis nearly maintenance-free. Here are a few of our favorite terrarium-friendly plants from our garden center.

Mosaic Plant is also known as Fittonia or Nerve Plant. It’s a compact spreading plant with distinctive white veins on dark green leaves. Mosaic loves humidity but does not want any direct sun. Keep it in a bright spot in a room that isn’t too close to the window. It’s a slow grower, so it won’t overwhelm your container. You can prune your mosaic if needed.

Earthstars, also known as Cryptanthus, are easy to care for, and they add a unique shape and pop of color to your container. They also prefer bright but indirect light and plenty of humidity.

Begonias can thrive in terrariums because they are such stable, controlled environments. They like humidity but need good drainage, and no direct sun. Ideally, the bottom of your terrarium should be layers of gravel or rocks, with very little soil and sphagnum moss instead.

Ferns, like the small versions of Pteris or Maidenhair ferns, are great for terrariums because they love humidity, and they also don’t like much direct sunlight. Be careful about the positioning of ferns because most of them do not like their fronds to touch the glass.

Creeping Fig is a profuse grower often used as a ground cover. It prefers indirect light and humidity, and it doesn’t mind being trimmed and pruned to keep it in check.

Chinese Money Plant, also known as Pilea, likes humidity, prefers indirect light, and adds a unique look with its circular leaves on long, slender stems.

Peperomia may look like a succulent, but they’re actually rainforest plants, and they love the humidity. They also prefer bright indirect light. Each leaf will have its own unique variation of color.

Neanthe Bella Palms add the visual look of a bamboo forest to a terrarium. They are a slow-growing, low-maintenance plant that also loves humidity. They also prefer indirect light.

Polka Dot Plant has splashy pops of red and silver on its eye-catching leaves. Growing it away from direct sunlight will help to keep it smaller, but it could still use pruning once in a while.

Remember, the most important thing is to get plants that have similar light and moisture requirements. Once you have your terrarium set up with plants and other decorations, it should be almost maintenance-free. You’ll love having an entire mini-ecosystem in your home! 

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When you’re selecting plants for your terrarium, it’s essential to keep the size of your container in mind. You don’t want to cram in too many plants and crowd them all. If you have a specific terrarium in mind already, bring it with you to our garden center in Iowa when you’re looking for plants. That way, you can be certain which plants will fit, and you can get an idea of how you want to place them. If you don’t have a container yet, no worries! We’ve got lots of beautiful options to choose from, and we’ll even help you get set up with all the materials you need to create your miniature natural world. 

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How to Harvest, Preserve, and Store Your Herbs

Herb gardens are lots of fun to plant and enjoy during the summer. If you picked up a few easy herbs to grow from the garden center this spring, you’ve probably enjoyed the bright flavors of fresh herbs in your cooking. But the delightful aromas don’t have to end in the fall. You can harvest your herbs, preserve them, and liven up your meals with your homegrown bounty all year long. 

We can grow quite a variety of herbs here in Iowa, thanks to our lovely summers. Now that we’re getting near the end of the gardening season, it’s time to harvest and preserve your herbs so you can use them all through the winter.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Harvesting Your Herbs

Your herbs will have the most intense flavor just before they start to flower. If you notice buds forming on your herbs, clip them off to encourage them to produce edible leaves instead.

It’s best to harvest in the early morning before the sun is at its strongest.

To harvest your herbs, clip off the stems about an inch above the soil. Make sure to use clean and sterilized trimmers or scissors.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Preserving Your Herbs

There are a few different ways to preserve your herbs. You can air dry them; dehydrate them; make infusions with oil, butter, or vinegar; make extracts, or simply freeze them. The simplest method is air-drying. Here’s how to do it.

You’ll need: 

  • string or twine 
  • herbs 
  • paper bags

Tie up your herb bundles with string or kitchen twine. With plants like rosemary, dill, sage, thyme, and bay, you can make large bundles with 8-10 stems per bunch. With basil, tarragon, lemon balm, and mint, you’ll want to make smaller bundles with 3-5 stems per bunch. Once you’ve tied up your bundles, you can hang them upside down somewhere with plenty of airflow. Curtain rods or indoor clotheslines work great. Hang for a minimum of two weeks.

If you’re worried about the leaves falling off or starting to crumble while they’re hanging, you can put a paper bag over the bundle so any bits of leaves will fall inside the bag. You can tie the bag shut at the top with more string or an elastic band. Just make sure you cut about 6-8 holes in the sides of the bag to allow air to circulate.

Check your herbs every few days to see how they’re doing. If you hit two weeks and you’re still not sure if they’re dry, leave them for another two weeks. It won’t hurt them to hang longer. 

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Important Note: your herbs must be completely dehydrated before you store them. Otherwise, they will grow mold in your storage container.

Once they’re dehydrated, you can carefully take them down and pull the leaves off the stems. You can grind or crumble up your herbs now, or you can store the leaves whole and grind them as you use them. You can crumble them up in with clean fingers, or in a mortar and pestle. 

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Storing Your Herbs

You can store dried herbs in several ways. Our favorite is in small mason jars. Mason jars are quite affordable and easy to get, and they look beautiful in your spice cupboard. You can also reuse old spice containers that you’ve emptied. Or, you can store them in the freezer in freezer bags.

Dried herbs in jars should keep well in your cupboards for 1-2 years. A great way to test for freshness is to crush a little bit of the herb between your fingers and check if they still have their distinct scent. If there’s no scent left, it’s not going to add much flavor to your dish. Freezing some of your dried herbs for topping up your containers will prolong the herbs’ shelf life up to a few years.

Have you started preserving your herbs yet? Give it a try this year and enjoy the flavors of your garden all year long! If you’ve got any questions about preserving herbs, or you want to start planning your garden for next spring, stop by our garden center today.

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Growing Amazing African Violets

If you’ve ever tried to grow African Violets, or if you have friends who have, then you’ve probably heard or even told tales of frustration. African Violets have something of a reputation for being finicky and sensitive.

As summer winds down here in Iowa, you might be shifting your focus back to the care of your houseplants. Right now those pretty African violet blossoms on our garden center shelves are looking particularly lovely, and yet their reputation has some folks hesitating. Many of us have bought a plant with beautiful blooms, only to get it home and never see it bloom again. In reality, this is simply a symptom of being unfamiliar with that plant’s quirks and preferences. African violets may be particular, but caring for one is not quite rocket science. 

That said, if you prefer houseplants that flourish under a bit of neglect, then they may not be the right houseplant for you. They require a little more attentive care than other plants, but we think their beautiful blossoms are worth the extra effort.

If you’re up for the challenge, we’ve prepared a guide to help you keep your treasured African violets blooming. We’ve noted their peculiarities, and if you follow these guidelines, yours should reward you with plenty of blossoms.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

8 Simple Guidelines for Thriving African Violets

1. It’s best if they are watered from the bottom
If water gets on the leaves of African Violet, it will cause burns. Rather than trying to be careful with a watering can, its easier to water them from below. If you keep a saucer under your pot, you can fill it up with room temperature water. Let the pot soak in the water for an hour, and dump any excess water after the hour is up. Or, set the pot in the bottom of your sink or in a baking dish with about one inch of room temperature water. Don’t use cold water; it shocks them. African violets like to dry out between drinks, so feel the soil before you water. It should be dry to the touch within a half-inch of the soil surface.

2. They need air around their roots
African violets need soil that is light and airy, allowing them to breathe well. The soil should contain plenty of sphagnum peat moss (this is different than regular peat moss, which is usually rotted down, which would retain too much water) and perlite to help it drain well. Don’t mess around on this; get a specific African Violet soil mix.

3. They like breathable, shallow pots
Terra Cotta is ideal for African violets because the porous material allows the roots to breath better and prevents the soil from staying too wet. African Violet roots don’t go very deep; they like to go sideways, so don’t use a deep pot. Your pot must have suitable drainage holes so you can water from underneath. You can also get African Violet specific pots that have a terra cotta sleeve you plant in, and a water reservoir. Just remember not to leave them sitting in water for more than an hour.

4. They like to be a bit rootbound
African violets bloom best if they’re a little bit rootbound, but not too much. Ideally, the diameter of your pot should be about 1/3 of the width of the leaf spread of your violet. So if your violet is 12′ across, you’ll want about a 4″ pot. They should only be repotted about once a year or less depending on how much they’ve grown.

5. They like bright, indirect light
A north or east-facing window is best for an African violet in summer, in winter they may need to move nearer to a south window. Make sure its leaves don’t touch the glass—this may transfer the outdoor chill to the plant. A plant stand a few feet away from a window is best. In the winter, you may want to use a grow light to ensure your violet gets enough light. If you do use a grow light, make sure its 12-15″ above the plant, and on for about 14 hours a day. They do need a good 8 hours of darkness per day to keep blooming.

6. They need rotation
To make sure all the leaves get equal sunlight, you’ll want to turn your African violet a quarter turn once a week.

7. They need snacks
African violets need to be fed regularly with African violet-specific fertilizer to keep blooming. Every two weeks in the spring and summer, 3-weeks to once a month in fall and winter.

8. They like to be reasonably warm
If you keep the temperature in your house around 70˚F during the day and 65˚F at night, they should be happy.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

African violets are particular, but it’s not that complicated to get them growing well. Their delicate fuzzy leaves and pretty purple, pink, or white blossoms are worth the trouble. For things like watering, fertilizing, and rotating, you can set alerts on your mobile phone calendar to remind you when to water, when to feed, and even when to turn them.

Fun Fact: Did you know that you can propagate African violets from leaves? Once you’ve got your African violet collection thriving, you can gift them to friends and pass on your expertise.

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Here’s a simplified recap for how to care for your African Violet:

  1. Don’t get the leaves wet
  2. Turn it a quarter turn every week (set a reminder on your phone!)
  3. Keep it warm, 65-70 degrees
  4. Water from the bottom when the soil is dry (set the pot in 1″ room temperature water for 1 hour)
  5. The pot size should be 1/3 plant width
  6. Use African Violet specific soil
  7. Feed every 2-3 weeks with African Violet fertilizer (set a reminder on your phone!)
  8. Terra-cotta pots are the best option
fiddle-leaf fig plant

Have you picked up an African violet yet? Stop by our garden center to browse our beautiful selection of African violet varieties and supplies. We can get you set up with the right plant and the right tools to make caring for your African violet as fun, easy and convenient as possible.