Home Map and Hours Classes and Events Employment

Welcome to Tagawa's Blog

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Make Your Own Porch Pots. It's Easy!

If you're looking for something a little different to spice up your holiday decorating, "porch pots" could be the answer. They're fun and easy and Tagawa Gardens is here to give you all of the help and supplies you need.

What's a "porch pot," anyway?
A porch pot is a bit like a big flower arrangement. But instead of using flowers and ferns, you use fresh-cut evergreen stems and branches. The star of the porch pot cast of characters is usually a few "spruce tops." These are two- to four-foot tall sections of white spruce specially-grown for this type of decorative use. Harvesting the spruce tops doesn't harm the tree. The entire crop is sustainable, or you can be sure Tagawa's wouldn't recommend it.

The spruce tops look like slender little Christmas trees. Pop a few of them into the ceramic containers, whiskey barrels or whatever you have... containers that already spent the growing season on your deck or patio. Get this far, and you're well on your way to making your first porch pot. (And you're not looking at an empty container all winter!)

Porch pots can also be planted in fiberpots, and dropped down into your existing containers. Windowboxes can make beautiful porch pots, too.

What other materials do I need?
You won't need a thing we don't have at Tagawa's. By late-November, the bins in our Christmas tree area fill up with fresh, fragrant greenery from throughout the country. Incense cedar with its beautful draping branches, just right for cascading over the edge of your pot. Berried juniper, loaded with dozens of grey-blue clusters of tiny berries. Princess pine and shore pine and so much more.

Picking a variety of needle lengths and textures will add interest to your porch pot, and give it a professional touch. Tagawa's sells the greenery by the pound, so you can buy as much or as little as you like.

Ready. Set. GO!
Give all of your greenery a fresh angled cut with a sharp pair of pruners as you plant. Select a spruce top (or other striking piece of greenery, if you prefer), for the center of your pot. Water the soil first, so it's slightly compressed, and holds the branches in the position you want.

If this is your first porch pot, one very easy design calls for your tallest piece of greenery to be in the center, much as the tallest plants in summertime mixed containers often take center stage.

One by one, fill in the pot with a variety of greenery, creating a kind of roundish "bush" effect. If you don't like something, move it. Rearrange it. Mix and match. You're the boss!

Depending on your personal taste, you might want to add some dried materials.... maybe some of that ornamental grass that's still looking so good in your yard. Branches of red twig dogwood or curly willow look great too.

Or you can go glitzy with some artificial greenery and accessories. Aspen leaves with a coating of crystalline "frost." Stems with dark red berries for a warm touch of holiday color.

Add pine cones... dried flowers... or tiny ornaments that reflect your family's favorite sport or activity. Maybe a wiggly yard ornament like a snowman or elf would make a nice accent. The only rule is to have fun! As the New Year approaches, you can swap out some of the accents and decorations, and go with more of a winter theme reflecting ice and snow and fireworks.

Are porch pots hard to keep?
Porch pots last longer if they're not in areas that get lots of sun or strong wind. But even in more difficult locations, with a little T.L.C., porch pots can look fresh for several weeks.

Spraying with an anti-dessicant like "Wilf Pruf" will help the needles hold moisture and add life to your arrangment. You can spray the greenery (both sides) either before you plant, or once your stems and branches are in place. Just try to keep the preservative spray off the any accents that could lose some of their shine and luster.

Obviously, the greenery doesn't have roots, but the freshly-cut stems can take up water on a mild day when the soil isn't frozen. I have good luck watering my porch pots with a bucketful of warm water once a week, if possible.

So what are you waiting for?
Porch pots are fun and easy and anyone can make them!

Come see us at Tagawa's. We have lots of samples of porch pots on display, and plenty of friendly advice to get you started.

Be bold! Impress your family and friends with design skills you didn't even know you have.

And Happy Holidays from all of us at Tagawa's!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Magic of Fairy Gardens

Picture a very tiny landscape, complete with small, dainty plants..... miniature tables and chairs.... pebbles creating a cobbled pathway and softball-sized rocks looking for all the world like boulders and mountains. Can you see it? If you can, you've just imagined the beginning of what could be your own fairy garden.

Fairy gardens are capturing the fancy of gardeners of all ages. At Tagawa Gardens, we often see grandmothers sitting down with their grandchildren-- girls and boys-- to create their own fairy worlds. The only requirement: a sense of whimsy, and a belief in fairies, of course. If you're willing to try to think like a fairy or gnome, you can make a world that's just right for a tiny woodland, seaside or mountaintop home.

Fairy gardens start with a tray or box, complete with drainage, and big enough to hold the potting soil that will give the garden its foundation. Tagawa's has pre-assembled kits that are just right for the fairy garden you might have in mind.

Tagawa's will gladly suggest plants that will be right at home in this miniature landscape. Not any plant will do. Small-leafed houseplants can be a great fit, and will keep the "greenery" in just the right proportion to its surroundings. Many herbs are well-suited for fairy gardens, too. Trim a lavender plant just so, and you'd swear it was a tiny tree... the perfect spot for a fairy picnic. Tagawa's carries small herbs year 'round, for fairy gardens and windowsills.

It's hard to say which is more fun: selecting the plants or the accessories. Tagawa's carries a wonderful selection of tiny metal gates and gazebos..... picket fences and cafe tables.... birdhouses and beehives. Everything you need to give the special touches that fairies and gnomes appreciate.

And then, of course, there are the figurines themselves. Colorful little fairies just right for tiny hands to set into the garden, and move from one corner of the landscape to another, whenever the mood strikes. Tagawa's also has larger, more elegant fairies.... sitting on a beautiful glass bubble or swinging from a crescent moon. The choice is your's.

Don't forget the dragons!! Dragons in every color and every pose.... adding a sense of adventure to any fairy setting. Are the dragons friend or foe? Only the fairies can say.

While Tagawa's has all the fairy accessories you could want, we also encourage our fairy gardeners to gather trinkets from nature to give their garden a personal touch.... sticks and small bits of wood, pine cones, dried flowers... even acorns. You're limited only by your imagination.

Once your fairy garden is ready, it will need good light, proper watering, and a trim now and then to keep the plants in check.

Come see us at Tagawa's. Check out our big fairy garden, complete with a castle, fairies and their pets... and maybe a dragon or two lurking in the background. And get some gift ideas for yourself, or for the "inner fairy" of someone near and dear.

Fairy gardens are a great way to introduce kids to gardening, and have adults come along for the ride!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Putting the Garden to Bed

A lot of people who love to garden in Colorado especially like the fact that we have fairly well-defined seasons... a beginning, a middle and an end, of sorts, to the busiest, hands-on growing of things we care about.

But just because the most active part of the season is shutting down, that doesn't mean we as gardeners and homeowners have the next several months off. There are a lot of things we can be doing now to help the plants in our landscape come into spring strong and healthy. And there are even a few mid-winter gardening chores that are well worth our time and effort. Let's take a look.

It's clean-up time!!

While the soil is still loose and fairly warm, grab your cart or wheelbarrow and yank out all that dead plant debris. Dead leaves and stalks from flowers and vegetables are a great place for bugs and diseases to hang out over the winter, ready to jump back into the game next season.

If you put bedding plants in and amongst your perennials, those dead plants should come out too. Trim down the the top growth on your perennials to within a few inches of the soil line. Four or five inches of old stems left in place over the winter can actually help hold an extra bit of snow, or keep mulch in place, protecting the crowns of the plants in the process. The stems can be cut back to the ground at the first sign of new growth in the spring.

It's a great time to till!

Fall is the perfect time to amend our garden soil by tilling or digging in leaves or aged manure.... whatever disease-free organic material you have handy. Working the amendments in now gives the soil time to break that material down over the winter. Your beds will be ready to rock 'n roll next spring. And if we have significant rain or snow in April and May, you won't have to wait (impatiently?) for the soil to dry out before you can start your garden. As long as your work doesn't compact the soil, (which you never, ever want to do), you'll be good to go.

Turning the soil after a few nights of freezing weather is also a great way to fight back against the bugs that want to over-winter in our gardens. Disrupting the bugs' winter sleep can be a very good thing.

Say "hi" to "La Nina."

The weather folks say we're setting up for a winter-long "La Nina" pattern. As much as you may hate shoveling snow, La Nina is not a gardener's friend. The sytem tends to mean drier conditions for much of the Front Range. Bottom line: don't skimp on some supplemental moisture now, while the ground is still open and able to soak up some extra water.

"Winter watering" you say?

You may have shut down your automatic sprinklers for the season, but don't put the garden hose too far away. In addition to giving your trees, shrubs and perennials a nice deep drink now, be ready to do some winter watering. Every month when we haven't had a good wet storm pass through, drag out the hose and the sprinkler of your choice. Water on a warm winter morning when the ground isn't likely to freeze before the water can soak in.

Be especially careful with plants on the south and west side of your yard. Dry windy weather, even when it's cold, can be very damaging..... damage that may not become obvious until next spring. Why risk it?

Don't neglect your lawn. If it's still green, and you haven't fertilized within the past six weeks, it's not too late. A deep core aeration first will be an added bonus. But no de-thatching! Not now. Not ever! De-thatching damages the crowns of the grass plants, and can create far more problems than it solves. Core aeration is the way to go.

T.L.C. for trees

Nothing in our landscape is more valuble, or more time-consuming and expensive to replace, than healthy trees. So why not invest in a little T.L.C. to protect them?

Young trees... especially newly-planted trees... can be hard-hit by
the challenges that winter brings. Five minutes of your time and a roll of tree wrap can make a huge difference.

Tagawa's carries tree wrap. Our expert staff will be happy to show you how easy it is to use. The wrap should go on around Thanksgiving, and stay in place until about Easter. Wrapping your trees can prevent sunscald, where the tender bark on the south and southwest sides of the trees freezes and splits. Sunscald can stunt, and over time even the precious trees that give our yards so much character. Don't let it happen!

Easy-does-it with the pruners.

Avoid too much heavy pruning this time of year. Broken, dead or dying branches, or plants that are in the way of clearing snow from walks and driveways, can certainly be pruned as needed. But major pruning to shape a tree or shrub should wait until late winter or early spring, if possible.

The general rule of thumb on roses is to remove long, lanky stems that might be in the way or be broken by the wind over the winter months. But otherwise, protect the base of the plants by mounding them with mulch, or using rose collars, once we've had a few nights of temperatures down into the low 20's. (Tagawa's has rose collars, too, of course....) Hold off until spring to cut back your roses. The green growth that survived the cold will tell you just how much to prune away.

Invest now for benefits next spring.

Attention to these few "to do's" during the coming months
is nothing less than a full-fledged investment in the health and well-being of your landscape next spring and summer. A little time and effort now = fewer headaches down the road.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Grow Your Own Garlic!

So many people I know who love garlic never think of growing it themselves. What's up with that, when growing your own garlic is so easy?

Fortunately, now is the perfect time to plant garlic. Early-fall planting gives the cloves the four to six weeks of warm soil they need to get a head start on next year's harvest. And early October is Garlic Festival time at Tagawa's, so you'll have plenty of varieties to choose from, while supplies last. Not to mention lots of expert advice to get you goin'.

There are two main types of garlic you can choose from. "Softneck" garlic includes the strain available in most grocery stores, and plenty more! The cloves can be white or purplish white, and range in flavor from mild to very bold. Softnecks are used to make garlic braids, and have a storage life of up to six months.

"Hardneck" garlic doesn't store as long as softneck, but comes in a beautiful variety of whites, reds and purples, with wonderful names like Chesnok Red and Metechi. The hardnecks seem to do especially well in Colorado.

Your garlic bed should be located in full sun, in a well-drained location. Garlic plants need to stay moist, but never soggy. Garlic loves soil that's rich in organic matter, so dig in plenty of compost or well-aged manure before you plant.

Separate the garlic bulb into individual cloves just before you plant. Press each clove down into the loose soil about two to three inches, pointy side up. (Okay, so I planted all of my cloves upside-down one year. Silly me. All of the shoots found "up" just fine. Still, I wouldn't recommend it.)

The cloves should be spaced about four inches apart. Firm the soil gently over the clove and then water them in well.

Plan on mulching your garlic bed heavily. I've used straw, pine needles, shredded leaves.... and a combination of those things, because that's what I had on hand. As long as the mulch stays on the airy side, and doesn't pack down or smother the bed, you should be fine. That four- to six-inch layer of organic material will help keep the soil's temperature and moisture content more even, and hold weeds to a minimum. Garlic doesn't like to compete with other plants, especially weeds.

Don't be surprised if your garlic cloves send up perky little green shoots during the first month or two. Those tender-looking leaves have a remarkable ability to ignore the snow and cold, and will be just fine.

If we have a dry winter, as the weather folks are predicting, you may need to give your garlic bed some water once or twice a month when the soil isn't frozen. Come next March or thereabouts, the shoots will kick into high gear. Keep up the watering, so the plants never dry out. Again, the soil should be moist, but never soggy. As your plants begin actively growing, feed them with some high nitrogern fertilizer to give them a welcome boost. The staff at Tagawa's can recommend fetilizers that will help produce big, plump garlic bulbs.

If you're growing the hardneck varieties, the plants will send up a flower stalk. called a "scape." Removing the scape when it's about a foot tall will send more energy into the bulb. But I must admit, sometimes I let the scapes go. They twist and curl and make me smile. It's not the purist's way, but a smile is worth something. It's your choice to keep the scapes or take them off. No decision needed with softneck varieties, since they don't produce scapes.

Back off the watering and feeding around the end of May. The garlic is usually ready to harvest in late June into July. When you see the lower one-third of the leaves dry up, it's time! If you're slow to harvest, the bulbs will often shatter into individual cloves when you dig them up.

Lift the bulbs gently so you don't damage them. It doesn't work to pull on the leaves. The stalk will just break, and then you'll have to go searching for the bulb. Remove the clumps of soil around the garlic, and let the bulbs air dry in a breezy place away from direct sunlight. After a few weeks of "curing," you can cut away the roots and most of the stalk.

The garlic will store best in a mesh bag in a cool, well-ventilated area. Never keep the garlic in the refrigerator. You'll trick it into thinking it's been through a winter, and it will sprout.

Come see us at Tagawa's and let us inspire you to plant a garlic bed of your own. If you look at garlic as one of the basic food groups (dark chocolate being another....), you'll be very glad you did.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Winding Down the Harvest

Whether we like it or not, it's time for a vegetable gardening reality check. In spite of our summer-like daytime temperatures here in late September (easily 10 degrees above normal), the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler, and our plants know it. So let's take some steps to start winding down the harvest, and help our plants do their best in the home stretch.

Take a realistic look at your veggie plants. Focus on which individual vegetables stand a chance of growing big enough, quickly enough, to amount to something usable before our first frost. Lop off the small fry, unless they can be used as "baby" veggies. (More on that in a moment.) This way, the vegetables that have time to mature will get all of the plant's energy, rather than wasting water, nutrients and sunshine on individual veggies that will almost certainly be too little, too late.

Take squash, for example. The "summer" squashes.... zucchini, crookneck, patty pan.... the types of squash with a tender skin... can often be used as "babies." High-end restaurants charge extra for these, so there's no need to waste them, as long as the variety you're growing tastes good while it's small.

But with winter squash like acorn and hubbard, the tough-skinned types, the juvenile fruit aren't very flavorful or sweet. I cut them off and toss them into the compost pile....or in my case, let Vinny, the yellow Lab, proudly carry them around all afternoon like some kind of prize, then toss them into the compost pile. With winter squash, the mature, full-sized fruit can take a light frost. Some folks say a few colds nights actually improve their flavor. But you don't want to leave them out if a hard freeze is expected.

Same with potatoes. Leave them in the ground 'til a frost has killed back their leaves, then harvest. Or if baby potatoes fill the bill, go ahead and gently dig them out now. Rub off the soil and let them air dry a bit, so they last longer in storage.

What about other veggies that are fully or mostly underground, like beets, turnips and carrots? As long as they're not crowding eachother, and they're being watered properly, no need to worry. They'll be fine well into our colder temperatures.

Picking tomatoes is a judgment call. As we covered in my last blog, full-sized tomatoes will generally continue to ripen at room temperature. If it's green tomatoes you want for pickling, it's easy enough to leave the larger ones and can the smaller fruit. Either way, I wouldn't leave all of them on the plant. Remember that you may see their rate of ripening slow down significantly as our overnight temps drop below ~ 50 degrees. Maybe pick some, leave others, and see what works best for you.

Other sun-loving plants like eggplant and peppers can be harvested once they reach an acceptable size, although they may be far less "meaty" than the mature fruit. Once again, favoring the larger fruit and sacrificing the smaller ones may be your best bet. Ditto for cucumbers. Pick the small ones, and use them if they taste good. Melons don't seem to sweeten up
at all 'til they're close to their mature size, so the smaller ones may not be usable.

A lot of the leafy vegetables.... spinach, kale, Swiss chard... can easily handle some light frost. And most lettuce varieties can take a bit of cold. You might even get away with planting some of these from seed now. They all grow better in cooler, rather than hotter, daytime temperatures.

The cold-loving veggies like cabbages, brussel sprouts and broccoli.... as their name implies, they're fine with cold nights... even a not-so-hard freeze.

So in general, make your harvest the best it can be by doing some selective picking. Continue to water thoroughly, but don't over-water. Deep and infrequent watering is best for all but the most shallow-rooted crops.

As much as I hate letting go of the last of the tomato crop, I actually welcome the change of seasons. Everything... and most everyone... can do with a little break.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

When should we pick tomatoes?

September is one of the best times to be in Colorado. And one of the most confusing, if you're growing your own vegetables. Since tomatoes are far and away the single most popular veggie that we grow, let's take a look at when we should be picking them, and when should we leave them alone, to continue ripening on the vine.

It all comes down to our often fickle Colorado weather. According to the National Weather Service, the Denver area's average first frost-freeze is October 8th..... but an overnight freeze has been known to come as early as September 8th or as late as November 15th. All this means that as gardeners, we need to be light on our feet, keep our eyes on the forecast, and think strategically. We need to have a plan on how to get as many tomatoes as possible to ripen before Mother Nature shuts down our tomato season.

So for starters, when should we be picking our tomatoes? Some folks are convinced that only a 100% vine-ripened tomato, ready to eat the moment you pick it, qualifies for an A+ rating. I'm not one of those folks.
Birds and rabbits, (who knew rabbits ate tomatoes?), seem especially drawn to a shiney red tomato. So in a effort to out-smart the wildlife, I'm likely to pick a tomato when it is on its way to fully coloring up, but not necessarily there yet. I'll let it finish ripening at room temperature on the kitchen counter. I honestly don't notice any loss of flavor.

By the way, never refrigerate a lovely home-grown tomato unless you want to make it taste like a store-bought tomato. Refrigeration is just one reason grocery store tomatoes taste so flat.

If you don't have wildlife pilfering your tomato patch, ripening on the vine is fine. A fresh-picked tomato warm from the sun is truly one of life's little pleasures. But you should also keep in mind that the clock is ticking on what's left of our growing season.

By picking your tomatoes when they are well into "blushing," but not fully ripened, you're letting the plant concentrate more energy on the remaining tomatoes. With a little luck, you'll get more home-grown goodness in the long run.

Also keep in mind that as our overnight low temperatures begin to drop, 55 degrees and less, the ripening process is going to slow down. Removing tiny tomatoes that don't have a chance of reaching their mature size will help focus the plant's energy on the fruit that has more promise.

In my next blog, I'll offer some tips and tricks on harvesting some of the other veggies that may be growing in your garden. Hopefully, we're at least a few weeks away from making the "big sweep" of our vegetable gardens, picking everything that would be damaged by freezing temperatures. But this is Colorado, after all. I always picture Mother Nature grinning at gardeners here, just to see if we're paying attention.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Container Gardens and Instant Gratification

Nothing but nothing dresses up a porch, patio or deck better than a big pot of flowers, spilling out in a beautiful jumble of color. A push towards smaller homes and simpler lifestyles has helped make container gardening the rage. Planting flowers in all sorts of pots and containers (almost anything with a drainage hole) is alll about instant gratification, and we at Tagawa's say "hooray" for that! We're here to help.

It's easier than you might think to plant your own containers and have pots
that look like they were done by a pro. All it takes is a few very basic design tips that will help guide you as you choose from the thousands of annuals that fill the benches at Tagawa's to over-flowing during the spring and summer months.

The design concept of "thrillers, fillers and spillers" is fun and easy to follow, and can help you envision your finished container even before you check out at Tagawa's. Here's how it works.

The "thriller" piece of the design puzzle refers to something dramatic for the center of your container garden.... a bold and up-right eye-catching plant to help "anchor" the whole arrangment. Thrillers are often the tallest plant in the pot, but a big, intensely-colored annual can work well, too.

Ornamental grasses make terrific thrillers. Tagawa's brings in dozens of different kinds of grasses every year that thrive in containers. Remember that the grasses may not be at their full-grown height when you plant them, but should grow quickly into their leading role.

"Fillers" come next. They're the plants you choose to surround the thriller... plants that will help give your container garden so much of its form and personality. Tried and true plants like geraniums can make great fillers. Or you may want to try something new, like "Diamond Frost" euphorbia. These airy plants have a non-stop show of tiny white flowers that fill the pot with small points of light. It's not the effect of each individual flower that gives Diamond Frost its well-earned reputation as a "must have." It's the appeal of so many tiny white flowers creating a kind of cloud effect that has won people over. For a pink-tinted effect, go with Diamond Frost's cousin, "Breathless Blush," and wait for the "oohs" and "ahs" that will follow.

The fillers can be two or three of the same plant, or a variety of plants. Just be sure you're selecting plants that will all "play well" together.... plants that share common needs for sun or shade. If you put plants with drastically different needs into the same pot, somebody's not going to be happy.

"Spillers," as you might have guessed, are the wonderful plants that we put against the ouside edge of the pot, so they can spill and tumble out. I'm inclined to think the spillers are often the most important players in a potted garden. They give a fluid sense of elegance... a healthy over-flow
that can make a container garden look lush and full. To me, plants without spillers look incomplete..... a bit as if an important guest missed the party.

The list of plants that make good spillers goes on and on. Cascading petunias are a classic form of a spiller. But there are hundreds of other choices that can make your pots look bold, impressive and professionally-done. Consider the "callies," the challibrachoas. They look like minature petunias, but come in wonderful shades of pink and purple.... red and salmon..... orange and yellow. The callies have a lot of devoted fans, and deserve every one of them.

If you're goal is a "mixed" planting.... a container with several different types of plants... besure to use a variety of foliage and flower shapes and textures. The results will have a lot more eye appeal. Don't forget to include plants with bi-colored or variegated leaves that are grown specifically for their foliage, and may not even have flowers during our short growing season. These variegated accents are another one of those "professional" touches that can make a big difference in the finished look of your container

And don't dismiss the beauty and simplicity of a big pot of a single type of plant.... maybe a few of the wonderful sun coleus varieties and nothing else. Coleus as a mass planting make a big statement.

A large tub of "Bubblegum" petunias can have a lot of punch, too. They're as pink as their name implies, and aside from regular watering, require little maintenance. Last summer, our neighborhood deer herd gave my Bubblegums a crew cut. A few days later, I couldn't tell they'd been munched. My kind o' plant!

The more plants you use in your container garden, the more frequently it's going to need to be watered over the summer. A nice, round number might be perhaps five to seven large plants (about a four-inch pot) in a 16" to 18" container, along with a few small fillers and spillers if you have the room.

Water your containers when the top few inches of soil dries out. Be sure to water thoroughly every time, until you see water begin to drain out at the bottom of the pot. Never leave a container garden (or any plant, other than bog plants) in standing water. The containers should always drain freely.

One last word to help make your containers a success. A lot of plants that are marked "full sun" on the label will struggle in full afternoon sun in Colorado, if they're also getting a lot of reflected heat off of a fence or wall. I think of Colorado sun as "sun-and-a-half." Reflected heat can be a challenge even when a plant is well-watered. If the plants' roots are baking, all the water in the world may not help.

Please bring your gardening wish-list to Tagawa's, and let us help guide you toward the best container gardens your decks and patios have ever had!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Good Bugs in the Greenhouse

I was mid-way through a shower the other morning when I realized I wasn't alone. (Not to worry. This is a family-friendly blog. Please read on.)

My showering companion that day was one of the best friends a gardener can have. It was elegant.... a beautiful pale green, with veined wings and tiny bulging eyes that don't miss a trick. If you guessed "green lacewing," you're right.

Green lacewings are a welcome and common sight in environmentally-friendly Colorado gardens in warm weather. But where did this guest come from in the middle of winter? It took me a few minutes, then I figured it out. Kris, Tagawa's co-director of annuals, had issued a personal invitation. Here's how.

Kris is an organic gardener at home, and is always interested in finding new ways to grow and garden organically at Tagawa's, too. Last October, she began what I like to call "Tagawa's Great Lacewing Experiment." And so far, that experiment is a resounding success! The adult green lacewing sharing my shower the other morning was testimony to that success. It had apparently hitched a ride home with me on one of Tagawa's poinsettias.

Last fall, Kris turned loose about 5,000 live lacewing larva, the voracious bug-eating stage of the insect that emerges when the lacewing eggs hatch. Not long afterward, Kris brought in small cards about the size of a bookmark that were coated with lacewing eggs embedded in lacewing food. In the warmth and humidity of the Tagawa greenhouse, the eggs hatched out quickly. These new larvae didn't have to go far for their first meal since Kris had strategically placed the cards throughout the houseplant department where insect pests can be a challenge this time of year.

Once the larvae morph into adults, Kris supplements their diet with a special mixture of honey, bee pollen and brewer's yeast brushed onto cards suspended throughout the houseplant department. Lacewing larvae will eat 200 insect pests a week, which is why gardners love them. But the adult lacewings aren't eating machines like the larvae, so they thrive on the extra food that Kris gives them. It was one of these well-fed adults that came home with me.

But why does Tagawa's need insect control in the greenhouse? That's easy. Any "healthy" greenhouse, like any "healthy" landscape, will have its fair share of insects. The goal is not to have zero insects. The goal is to keep insects in check... or more specifically, to help Mother Nature keep them in check, to a point where damage is insignificant. And that's exactly what Kris' lacewings are doing.

She says the results were "immediate." Within days of introducing the lacewings, Kris says the number of mealy bugs, aphids, thrips and spidermites on the houseplants plumeted. Kris estimates that the level of "bad" bugs dropped by eighty percent without an ounce of chemical insecticide being used. In fact, with the green lacewings on duty, using potent insecticides in the greenhouse is prohibited. Some soaps and botanical oils can be used without harming the "good bugs."

This speaks to one of the big problems gardners create when they "spray for bugs." Strong chemical insecticides kill the damaging bugs and the beneficials. And since the "bad" bugs tend to reproduce more quickly and more prolifically than the "good" bugs, it's the bad bugs that get the upper hand. The gardeners, and Mother Nature's balance, have a hard time catching up.

Is Kris likely to increase her cast of beneficial characters as spring approaches? Indeed she is. She's looking at a wonderful little critter called a "mealy bug destroyer." Guess what they eat.

Inviting beneficial insects into the greenhouse is in keeping with Tagawa's commitment to sustainability, and to a leadership role in the green industry. Tagawa's was the first Veriflora Certified Sustainable garden center in the country. Sustainability and earth-friendly gardening practices are a priority for Tagawa's. We invite you to wander through our houseplant department and see if you can spot one of Kris' lacewing "launching pads" suspended over the plants. They're pretty interesting.

And what about the little green guest I found sharing my shower? I tucked it into a small plastic tub, gave it a tissue for something to hang onto during the ride, and released it in the middle of Tagawa's houseplant department. It took the elegant little bug all of half-a-second to take off and fly up into the greenery. Here's hoping its offspring will be chowing down on the pesky bugs any day now.