The recently held Connecticut Flower & Garden Show was a welcome late winter event with its lovely landscapes, exquisite floral arrangements and unique vendors. All the landscapes were delightful to view but I thought that the Earth Tones Native Nursery with its lighted recycled beer bottles and Aqua Scapes of CT both had especially creative exhibits.

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Aqua Scapes of CT landscape at 2018 CT Flower & Garden Show

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Earth Tones Native Nursery display at 2018 CT Flower & Garden Show

Another great feature of the flower show are the thousands of plants, bulbs and seed packets available for purchase. Several of the vendors were offering various species of tillandsias, commonly called air plants.

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Tillandsias for sale

They are quite popular because not only do they look interesting and quite different from other houseplants, but they do not need soil or potting mix to grow in. So, they can be grown almost anywhere light and temperatures allow. According to Yumi Chen of Yumi Jewelry & Plants ( air plants are a favorite of apartment dwellers and college students as they do not take up much space nor do they require a lot of care.

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Tillandsias on display at Yumi Plants

Tillandsias are a genus in the Bromeliad family. They are epiphytes which is a fancy way of saying they are plants that typically grow on other plants, often in the crotches of trees and shrubs. They may also grow on rocks, cacti and even on the ground. Tillandsias are native to parts of the southern U.S., Central and South America.

Unlike most plants that we are familiar with, tillandsias only use their roots to anchor themselves to a living or non-living object. Water and nutrients are not taken up by the roots but rather by the leaves. As a general rule of thumb, those with thicker leaves are native to drier areas while those with thinner leaves grow where there is more rainfall and humidity.

There are over 650 different species of air plants. Many have slender or strap-shaped leaves but a few larger ones have more triangular-shaped leaves. While they are grown primarily for their curious mop-like shapes, they do have interesting tubular or funnel-shaped flowers often in bright colors.

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Tillandsia flowers at KC Exotic Air Plant Booth

Caring for tillandsias is not difficult as long as their basic cultural needs are met. Providing air plants with the water and nutrients they need is the key to healthy plants. Their leaves have specialized microscopic structures on them called trichomes that are hollow tissue cells that absorb any moisture they come into contact with. They also give many species of tillandsias their lovely silvery blue sheen.

Suggested watering regimes vary depending on who you talk to and which websites are visited. Keith Clark of KC Exotic Air Plants ( recommends soaking plants 3 to 4 hours every 2 weeks while Ms. Chen suggests a 30 minute weekly soaking. Other regimes include misting or placing them under a faucet of running water. Like most plants, how often they are watered depends on the species of plant as well as climate conditions. During warmer, drier periods because of home heating or summer sun, plants probably need to be watered more frequently. Also, if they are kept in humid bathrooms and kitchens, they may need less water. Since I just purchased my first air plant, I will see how it fares with a once a week half hour soaking.

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Watering tillandsia by placing in a bowl of water

Both vendors as well as Tillandsia International ( do stress the need to let the air plants dry out before putting them back in their pots, bowls, globes or other containers. If your tap water is chlorinated, consider using bottled, well or rain water instead.

Air plants do not require a lot of nutrients and respond well to a bromeliad fertilizer (17-8-22). The easiest way to fertilizer according to Ms. Chen is to mix a quarter teaspoon of fertilizer into a gallon of water and use this solution to soak your plants in once a month from spring through fall. Plants typically are not fertilized during the winter months.

Tillandsias need bright, indirect light but few do well in full sun. Place in an east or north window or 3 to 5 feet away from more brighter southern or western exposures. They can also be grown using artificial light.

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Tillandsia in a glass globe makes a nice hanging plant

Plants will develop roots but since these are only needed to anchor the plants to trees and other objects, they are often trimmed away before plants are sold. As the roots grow back, they can be left on the plant or cut off depending on how it is being displayed. Because of their unique shape and growth habits they can be placed in hanging glass globes, used to fill decorative bowls or other containers, included in succulent dish gardens or attached to wall hangings. Because they need good air circulation, they might not do well in enclosed terrariums.

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Tillandsias in open terrariums.

When an air plant finally matures, which takes about 9 to 12 months for the smaller species according to Mr. Clark, it blooms and then produces offshoots, generally referred to as pups. When these reach about one third of the size of the parent plant, they can be separated but often they are left intact creating colonies of air plants, which are more vigorous than individuals.

Cut off any dead leaves and if the plant develops brown tips, they can be trimmed off. Tillandsias are pretty tough plants but sometimes are forgotten about. Shriveled plants may be regenerated by soaking for 24 hours. Provide your plant with adequate light, water and temperatures above 45 F and these delightful plants can be employed in a variety of scenarios around the home and at the office.

Happy Spring – Almost!


Enough of this snow and cold weather already! I am sure that many of us are tired of shoveling, snowblowing, slipping and sliding, rearranging schedules and high heating bills and really need a breathe of spring right now. Thank goodness for the Flower Shows and the one I spent all day at yesterday was the 33rd Annual Connecticut Flower & Garden Show at the Convention Center in Hartford.

In part that was because the UConn Home & Garden Education Center has an information booth there staffed by UConn horticulturists and UConn Master Gardener Coordinators and Volunteers available all 4 days to answer your gardening questions. UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab staff are also at the show offering free soil pH testing and limestone recommendations. We only got two soils yesterday which considering the amount of snow covering most of our yards at the moment is not surprising. The important thing about tabling at the show is really to let the folks of Connecticut know what the UConn Departments of Plant Science/Landscape Architecture and Extension can offer them in terms of advice and services for problems in the home and landscape.

UConn Home & Garden Education Center Booth

UConn Home & Garden Education Center Booth

Two other UConn Home & Garden Education Center staff, Carol Quish and Pamela Cooper, along with myself have or will be speaking at the Flower Show. I noticed at least a couple of UConn Master Gardeners will also be giving presentations as well as many other skilled and knowledgeable horticultural professionals. If you are attending the show, check out the free seminars.

My favorite part of the show is the FLOWERS, of course! So many to view! Arrangements in the Federated Garden Clubs of CT competitions, the floral arranging demonstrations by CT Florists, the lovely blooming plants in the landscapes, and all the plants and garden themed items to buy.

Floral Arrangements and Lovely Landscapes

Maybe Pondering Creations Floral Arrangements and Lovely Landscapes

The creativity of the flower arrangers, landscapers and the various merchants is really amazing. I also love finding new garden products and unique craft items. So here’s a few photos of what caught my eye – no endorsement is meant. This is just a small taste of what you’ll find at the show. Do come see for yourself and stop by the UConn booth to say hi!

Garden On a BBQ Grill!

Garden On a BBQ Grill!


Hanging Terrariums by Naturesworks

Hanging Terrariums by Naturesworks


Tower Garden by Juice Plus+

Tower Garden by Juice Plus+

Mushrooms by  ripple Pottery

Mushrooms by
Ripple Pottery

Dawn P.

From this past Thursday morning until last night, the UConn Home & Garden Education Center, the Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory and Master Gardener Coordinators and Volunteers staffed our booth at the CT Flower & Garden Show. We weren’t sure how big a turn out to expect as in the past we have found that the more severe the winter, the greater the show attendance – probably because folks really needed encouragement that spring was on the way. This year, however, despite the warm winter, the show was packed! We must have performed more than 250 free soil pH tests and answered hundreds of gardening questions. The large number of soil pH tests was obviously due to the fact that most soils were not frozen solid – in fact there are many areas that only have frost in the top inch of soil – and that’s only on colder days.

Answering questions at the Flower Show

There were a lot of vole and deer control questions and many folks wanted suggestions for dealing with some of the diseases their vegetables, especially tomatoes, had been plagued with last summer because of all the rain. Moss in lawns was also a frequent topic of discussion and many visitors have heard of the boxwood blight that is infecting these lovely evergreens and wanted to know more.

The CT Flower & Garden Show has a lot to offer, from incredible landscapes to a multitude of vendors of largely garden related items, to the creative arrangements by Federated Garden Club members. I think I counted over 200 exhibitors in this year’s flower show program! The work that goes into some of the landscape displays is awe-inspiring! Years ago a company I worked for had an exhibit in the Boston Flower Show and the amount of time, effort, gardening expertise, and physical labor that went into designing, growing and setting up a landscape display left a team of us exhausted but happy with the outcome.

The CT Flower Show also gives local plant societies a place to introduce themselves to potential new members and give folks advice. One could find out information on African violets, bonsai, rhododendrons, orchids, carnivorous plants and much more. Representatives from UConn’s EEB Greenhouse and Invasive Plant working group were there to share their resources.

The theme for the juried Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticuts floral arrangements was ‘The Fabulous Fifties’ and there were so many creative, fun and artful entries it was hard to pick favorites, never mind winners. I would have had a tough time deciding who the awards should go to as all the entries were wonderfully creative.

Here’s some that caught my eye!


The above 3 pictures taken by Clinton Morse, UConn EEB

Till next time,

Happy Gardening!


As I was heading out to Stamford the other day to teach the Master Gardener class on Soils, Plant Nutrition and Fertilizers, I noticed that the snowdrops at the base of the foundation were already in bloom. I haven’t checked on my black pussy willow yet but as I strolled through aisles of vendors at the CT Flower & Garden Show in Hartford yesterday, I noticed bunches of soft, fuzzy pussy willows for sale, a sure sign spring is on the way.

For the last decade, at least, the UConn Home & Garden Education Center and the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory have had a joint booth at the Hartford Flower Show. We offer free soil pH testing for anyone who brings in one-half cup of soil or so (yes I know some years it is hard to collect a soil sample in February!) and both UConn staff and UConn Master Gardener volunteers are at the booth to answer gardening questions from the public. If we don’t know the answers on the spot, we will research the question and phone, mail or email our findings to you. We also take this opportunity to let folks know about our Perennial Plant and Garden Conferences to be held March 11 and 12 at the Storrs campus as well as the CT Master Gardener Association Conference held March 27 at Manchester Community College ( ).

Gardening and soil questions and comments are of course received by us all year long. Upon returning from a talk a few weeks ago, I found a message to call back a homeowner who had something very important to tell us. When I called back, the person described to me a most interesting plant. It seems she had purchased a witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis ‘Pallida’ for its late winter, airy, golden blossoms. One branch of her shrub, however, had red flowers which had begun opening last November.

I suspect this was because the plant was grafted and the red flowering stem arose from the root stock. I have seen this happen on roses where there is a red rose on the end of a stem but all the other stems are producing yellow roses. The person was nice enough to send me a photo of her curious but delightful plant.

Bicolor witch hazel

On another note, finish up those seed orders! I just came across some information stating that cucumber seeds might be in short supply because of the terrible seed-growing season last year on both sides of the Atlantic. There should be enough seeds to start with but procrastinators may be faced with limited variety selections the longer they wait to purchase seeds.  

Purchase cucumber seeds early!