weed tea

Using Weeds as Fertilizer: Weed Tea For Your Garden

weed tea

If you’ve got weeds growing in your garden, make the most of them with a batch of weed tea. Copyright image by Decoded Plants, all rights reserved.

For hundreds of years people have grown food and never used manufactured fertilizers to enhance crop yields. They used what was commonly available to them: weeds. Using weeds as fertilizer is simply a back-to-basics approach to returning valuable nutrients into the soil.

Healthy Soil

Soil isn’t just dirt; it is a life force full of healthy bacteria, fungi, nematodes, anthropods, minerals and earthworms that are critical to the eco-system, and to our survival on this planet.  In fact at least a quarter of the world’s biodiversity lives underground. Without healthy soil we have a serious problem; in fact it already is a global problem.

To help raise awareness about this, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils. Healthy soils are the foundation for not just food but also for fibre and medicines.

Making Nutrient-Rich Fertilizers

If you are one of those people who curse at the unwanted plants (weeds) growing in your garden, don’t get frustrated; turn those nuisances into an incredible nutrient-dense fertilizer. You can take those valuable plants and turn them into a nourishing weed tea for your soil.

When you whip up a brew of weed tea for your garden, you’ll be infusing a natural source of nutrients into the soil. Some of those nutrients include phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, calcium, boron, copper, manganese, sulfur, iron and silicon. Once made, you can safely use weed tea in your flower and vegetable gardens either as a spray or by putting some at the base of your plants.

Weeds, especially those with long taproots (such as dandelions) have collected valuable nutrients from the soil and they store the nutrients in the roots and leaves. Whenever you remove weeds from your garden and toss them away, you’re tossing away valuable nutrients. You can use all weeds in making weed tea except poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac and poison hemlock.

How to Make Weed Tea

The process to making weed tea is simple, but please remember this tea is strictly for your garden – this ‘tea’ is not for human or animal consumption.

First, get a large non-metallic bucket or other container with a lid. Place the gathered weeds (leaves, roots and flowers) in the bucket. (Do not collect weeds that have gone to seed.)

Add water until all plant matter is covered and there is at least a half inch of water over the weeds; then cover the bucket with a tight fitting lid.

Let the bucket sit for about three to four weeks. Stir it every five or six days, but beware: It will not smell pleasant. The fermentation process is wicked on the nasal passages, but do remember that this will become the ultimate fertilizer. Do not get any of this mixture on your clothing because it will stain. Use gloves to protect your hands from staining as well.

After four weeks, strain the remaining plant matter out of the liquid using cheesecloth or panty hose.  The liquid is what you need to save.

What you have now is concentrated. Before using this on your garden, dilute it at a rate of 2 parts weed tea to 10 parts water. Never spray this directly onto vegetables that are ready to be harvested.

Use Weed Tea Quickly: It Does a Garden Good

Be sure to use your weed tea within the same growing season you made it, and the faster you use it, the better for your garden.

Symphony of the Soil
UN News Center

Christmas Cactus Flower

Growing Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) For the Best Blooms

Christmas cactus

Christmas Cactus can add color to your home. Copyright image by Karen Stephenson, all rights reserved.

Once considered old-fashioned, Christmas cacti are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. A new generation is discovering how easy they are to grow and their uncanny ability to radiate cheer during the dark months of winter. The Christmas cactus, also called ‘true cactus,’ is considered to be one of the easiest tropical flowering plants to take care of that lasts for many years.

This stunning tropical cactus is a hybrid of Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera russelliana. Although this blooming cactus is a hybrid, its origins are in the Brazilian tropical rainforests, where Schlumbergera make their home as epiphytes, growing on tree branches. (Epiphyte comes from the Greek words epi meaning upon and phyton meaning plant.)

In Brazil, this cactus blooms when exposed to about six weeks of 12 hour long stretches of darkness. It also does the same here in the U.S. and Canada. The long dark nights that precede the winter solstice is why this beautiful flower typically blooms just before Christmas.

The Christmas cacti have dark-green flattened stems composed of segments joined in a scalloped pattern. Flowers appear at the tips of the stems and are available in shades of pink, red, purple, yellow, and white. More than 200 cultivars of this cactus exist.

Growing Christmas Cacti

Growing this plant is easy, but here are a few tips to help make it bloom before Christmas.

  • Shorter, cooler days and nights for about 8-10 weeks are needed for the plant to set buds. If you live in the southern U.S., taking it outdoors in the autumn is ideal but be sure to keep it out of direct sun. Bring the plant back inside before the first frost.
  • Keep the soil barely moist, but not too dry. Limp, shriveled stems means it is too dry.
  • Once it starts budding, keep the plant in the same location. Changes in temperature and light will cause it to drop its buds and flowers. Also keep it away from any drafty areas (this includes heating vents).
  • The Christmas cactus should be repotted about once every three years. It prefers to be slightly pot-bound and it tends to bloom best this way. Always wait until spring or early summer to repot; never do this while it’s blooming.
  • Tropical doesn’t always mean heat-loving, and the flowers will actually stay on longer in a cool, well-lit room. Make sure to keep it away from heating vents, fireplaces or any other source of heat.
  • Although this cactus will adapt to low light, it will produce more abundant floral displays in a bright location. Always keep them a few feet back from south or west-facing windows. If you move them outside for the summer, it is really important to keep them shaded or the leaves will burn.
  • Christmas cacti are not overly drought tolerant. While they need to dry out between waterings to avoid root rot, the soil should not get bone dry. When the top inch of soil is dry, this is a good time to water. The plant does like some humidity. Remember that these plants hail from steamy jungles, and our parched winter air can wreak havoc. Higher humidity leads to more blooms and longer blooms.

christmas cactus

Christmas Cacti: Fertilizing And Propagation

Like orchids, Christmas cacti need very little fertilizer. Feed two to three times a year with an all-purpose fertilizer. Stop fertilizing in October to encourage flowering.

You can pinch the branches back a month after flowering finishes. Never pinch off more than a third, and remember that the cuttings are easy to root, to grow a new plant.

To root the cuttings for new plants, cut back shoots from the tips, cut at the second joint of each tip. The cutting should show signs of growth within a few weeks, at which time the plant can be transferred to another container, if desired, with a looser potting soil mix of compost, loam and sand.

Is This Cactus Poisonous?

Many house plants can cause severe poisoning in pets so being cautious when choosing which plants to adorn your home is important. Christmas cactus is a popular choice among many people, especially during the holidays and it has been often categorized as a safe but best to avoid flowering plant.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or ASPCA, affirms that the Christmas cactus is non-toxic to dogs, cats and other pet animals.

Ideally children should not be eating any sort of plants that are not recommended for a human diet. Although the Christmas cactus has been deemed safe it is always advisable not to have this plant where an infant or toddler can get a hold of it.

Christmas Cactus For the Holidays

A Christmas cactus is a lovely addition to your home. Get to know your new plant’s blooming schedule, and repot when needed, and you’ll enjoy its blooms for many holidays to come.

Glory-of-the-Snow Flowers: Nature’s Spring Welcome

Glory of the snow patch greeting a new day.

Glory-of-the-snow patch greeting a new day. Copyright image by Karen Stephenson, all rights reserved.

Perhaps after a long cold winter embracing the beauty of a plant with the name Glory-of-the-snow doesn’t sound appealing, yet after one glance you’re sure to feel quite warm. This is an elegant flower that captures attention yet somehow it’s a highly underused flowering bulb.

Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae) is a member of the lily family and is well-suited to rock gardens, garden pathways, under trees, and even around the property’s edge.  There are some woodland settings and mountainsides in which as far as the eye can see, a brilliant blue blanket covers the dull landscape.

This is a plant that flowers profusely in the second year of grow making it a fabulous choice for naturalizing.

About Glory of the Snow

A glory-of-the-snow flower is brilliant blue with a somewhat faded white centre. Each bulb produces five to ten flowers per 6” stem with each flower measuring about 1” across. The petals unite at the base of each bloom and in the center of each flower, the flattened filaments form a cup. Blooms will last anywhere from two to almost six weeks depending on location and conditions.

The leaves are basal – that means they only grow from the bottom of the stem – and usually there are two per plant. Leaves are narrow and feel rather stiff – and generally are deep green. Leaves will die back in the summer months.

Glory-of-the-snow is a native of Crete, Cyprus and western Turkey. It is a naturalizing bulb, so over the seasons you will get more plants.  Since bulbs tend to prefer their soil well-drained this elegant flower is yet another great reason to design your garden with sustainable perennials.

Glory-of-the-snow close up.

Glory-of-the-snow close up. Copyright image by Karen Stephenson, all rights reserved.

In addition to the blue flowers there are other varieties such as the alba (white flowers) and the pink giant (pink flowers), which received the “Outstanding Plant Award” by Holland’s Royal General Bulb Grower’s Association.

This bulb generally blooms one week later than the glory-of-the-snow.

Propagation: Glory-of-the-Snow

Glory-of-the-snow plants self-seed and establish rather quickly in most locations so long as the conditions are favourable. You can plant the seeds outdoors in the autumn, and divide the tubers, corms or rhizomes at any time after they have bloomed. This plant self-sows under the right conditions.

If you have glory-of-the-snow in your garden or know where they grow and you want to collect seeds, allow the pods to dry on the plant. Once they are thoroughly dry, break open the pods and collect the seeds. You can place them in a sealed envelope and store them in a cool, dry location until you’re ready to plant.

Glory-of-the-Snow: Winter’s Over, Spring is Here

This spectacular plant thrives in growing zone areas 3 to 8 and is a welcomed addition to any garden in need of springtime color.

Common Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis): Blooming in Early Spring

Common Snowdrop

Common Snowdrop – an early bloomer. Image copyright Karen Stephenson, all rights reserved.

Common snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are  bulbous perennials that are native to Europe and southwestern Asia. Common belief is that the Romans brought them to England and the early settlers brought them to the eastern U.S. and Canada.

Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778) first described Galanthus nivalis in his “Species Plantarum” in 1753. This plant received the specific epithet nivalis, which means ‘snowy’ and Galanthus translated is ‘with milk-white flowers.’

Snowdrops: Endangered Species?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)  lists this perennial as ‘Vulnerable,’ ‘Near Threatened,’ or ‘Critically Endangered’ (but only those that occur in natural habitats) in several European countries. The suspicion is that climate change and the over-collecting of snowdrop bulbs for the supply of garden centers have definitely made an impact.

In the eastern U.S. and in Canada, there are no worries of losing these magnificent flowers because many of these species continue to ‘escape’ gardens and naturalize. Common snowdrops are a true harbinger of spring that typically bloom from late February to early April, often poking their heads up through snow.

Common Snowdrop flowers

Common snowdrops bringing life to the forest floor. Image copyright Karen Stephenson, all rights reserved.

The common name refers to the slight resemblance of the flowers to ‘drops’ of snow.

The Appearance of the Common Snowdrop

Enclosed by a papery sheath in the early stages of development, the solitary white flowers of common snowdrops hang down. Six white perianth segments (petals and sepals which are similar in appearance) make up each flower.

The outer three segments typically measure 14 to 17 millimeters in length, and the inner three measure half that and have a green notch in the tip which is an inverted V or U-shape.

The narrow leaves are bluish-green in colour and the hardened and narrow leaf-tips are able to break through frozen ground. The Common snowdrop has two leaves that face one another, like two hands praying.

Although the typical height for these early bloomers is 4″ to 6”, there are some cultivated varieties that can reach up to 10” tall.

These are the growing zones that common snowdrops will tolerate. Image by Decoded Plants

These are the growing zones that common snowdrops will tolerate. Image by Decoded Plants, information courtesy of Karen Stephenson

Propagation of Snowdrops

The propagation of common snowdrops is a relatively simple job and best done when the plant is in full growth or immediately after the leaves have died.

While the soil is still moist, lift the parent plant using a strong hand trowel. Very carefully tease the clump apart removing bulbs either as individuals or as smaller clumps. Be sure not to cause any damage.

Plant your new bulbs into fertile soil preferably in partial shade. Choose a well-drained site, but not one that dries out in summer. Be sure  to place the bulbs  at the same depth as before.

Best Ground for Snowdrops

Common snowdrops do best in moisture retentive, humus-rich, soil similar to that found in woodlands so it is advisable to add a good quantity of rich compost to the soil first. Once planted, give your plants a good watering in to help the roots bind with the surrounding soil.

A word of caution: this plant irritates the skin of some gardeners so be sure to wear protective gloves when handling your snowdrop bulbs or leaves.

Common Snowdrop Perennials

Snowdrops bloom in early spring – sometimes even through the snow. Image copyright Karen Stephenson, all rights reserved.

Bees can pollinate common snowdrops, yet this rarely occurs due to the lack of bee activity so early in the year. This plant spreads mainly by division of the bulbs, and seed production is extremely poor; however, ants can spread some seeds.

A Harbinger of Spring

It’s hard not to love these wonderful flowers that add colour to our gardens when little else is awake. Snowdrops can adorn your rock gardens, borders or anywhere else you want to see some life so early in the growing season.

Hellebores: The First Plant to Flower

Tired of snowy landscapes with no color? Hellebores can start blooming even when it's snowy outside. Image by gracey

Tired of snowy landscapes with no color? Hellebores can start blooming even when it’s snowy outside. Image by gracey

It’s an incredible treat to walk through your garden in late January, February or March and revel in the silver-dollar-sized hellebore flowers in pastel yellow, white, pink, or purple. Hellebores (Helleborus) belong to the Ranunculaceae family and some varieties are very early bloomers.

The most wonderful part about having hellebores in your garden is that they require virtually no work to thrive. Once gardeners plant these evergreen perennials and the hellebores establish themselves in the garden, these flowers can sprout blooms as early as January, depending on the geographical location.

This is a pleasure for those who enjoy flowers at a time of year that most gardens lack color. These native European plants make a fabulous evergreen groundcover throughout the summer months and delight many gardeners. Hellebores are suitable for splashy, mass plantings and they are ideal for woodland gardens.

Many gardeners are not aware that hellebores have a fascinating history. Hippocrates used hellebores as medicine for those who needed a diuretic, a laxative, and or to help those with mental health diseases. (Note: Do not attempt to use this plant for any medicinal purposes.)

In a more unusual purpose just before the year 600 BC, the Athenians used hellebores as a biological weapon which actually helped to win the First Sacred War (595BC- 585BC). Under the leadership of Solon, the Athenians besieged the ancient city of Kirrha. When their shallow wells went dry in times of drought, the Pleisthenes River was the only other source of drinking water for those in Kirrha. When drought occurred, Solon issued an order to put toxic Hellebore roots into the river. The people of Kirrha drank the water and they all got a serious case of diarrhea. Once the people in the city weakened, it became easy for the Athenians to conquer Kirrha!

Types of Hellebores

Most types of hellebores may take a while to get established, but once they take root, they are almost unkillable. These plants have magnificent evergreen foliage and are very impressive with how they mound up. Many varieties of hellebores tend to bloom very early in the year; so early that they bloom just above the snow and others will bloom throughout the summer into autumn.

The hardy winter blooms includes:

  • Cinnamon Snow
  • Pink Frost
  • Lenten roses or Christmas roses
  • Praecox

These winter bloomers are in the ‘caulescent’ species of hellebores because they produce stems. Acaulescent species does not produce stems. The rootstocks of these two groups are also different. The caulescent species cannot produce from division.

When can you propagate hellebores in your area? Image by Decoded Plants

When can you propagate hellebores in your area? Image by Decoded Plants

Cultivating Hellebores

Hellebores do very well in rich, well-drained soil in partially shaded locations. Be sure to add rich organic matter into the soil surrounding hellebores every spring to ensure best results.  Despite their ability to bloom in the late winter months, they do better if planted in locations other than open areas susceptible to cold high winds.


Many species of the hellebores have subtle flowers and they tend to hide under large leaves. It’s really important to remove old leaves on the acaulescent species in late winter or early spring; just as the flower buds emerge is best. This is a good practice to get into because hellebore leaf spot is a fungal disease that can develop if the old foliage is not removed.


Gardeners can increase most species by division in early spring. To ensure the best results, you must make sure that clumps are split into several sections of reasonable size with at least one growth point in each. Be sure to water well until they properly take root in the soil. Due to the lack of fine roots, these new divisions may establish very slowly and if they don’t flower well the following year, don’t worry.

All hellebores tend to object to being moved around and are best left alone.  If you have to move an established clump of hellebores, then it’s really important to dig deep to get as much of the root ball as possible. You can move them only in early spring or early autumn.

There are two varieties that you cannot propagate: H. foetidus and H. argutifolius. Gardeners raise these by sowing seed early in the year. Keep in mind though, that is may take up to three years before these plants reach flowering size.

Companion Plants

Three plants in particular do very well when grown alongside hellebores.

Astilbe adds a fine foliage texture that contrasts with the bolder hellebore leaves. When hellebores look somewhat gloomy, astilbes will liven up that area of your garden.

Hostas have broad foliage that helps to protect the hellebore leaves in sunnier locations. Both the hostas and hellebores thrive under similar conditions.

Lungworts are incredible plants that add color to springtime gardens and blends very well with the hellebores. Lungworts’ leaves make a great counterpoint to hellebore’s dark foliage.

Hellebores: Maintenance-Free and Beautiful

If you want to adorn your garden with hellebores be sure to visit your local garden center. Maintenance-free, beautiful to look at and having color in your yard when the snow is still on the ground makes the hellebores a sought-after plant.