Its 44 degrees and sunny as I write this, the second mostly sunny day in a row, which is a great mood lifter. When Gizzy and I took our walk yesterday I noticed tiny green buds on the honeysuckles. Ground Ivy and chickweed are beginning to grow and the early bulbs are sprouting. Last year at this time we were experiencing lows of the -15 range and highs below 20 degrees. In 2015 it was -10 on Valentine’s Day. However I had snowdrops blooming on the 24th of February last year so I’m getting excited that I may see them soon this year. The day after I saw the snowdrops bloom last year we had 11 inches of snow. I hope that’s not coming this year.
Inside the hibiscus are all putting on lots of buds. My Christmas cacti are still blooming; they’ve had a long bloom period this year. The fuchsias are still blooming. Kalanchoes are beginning to bloom. The tuberous begonias I saved in pots on the porch are starting to sprout again.
I kept saying last fall that I wasn’t adding any more flower or vegetable beds this year, but here I am, out walking in the balmy winter sun and dreaming about what changes the garden needs. I do need a new raised veggie bed, maybe a narrow one along the fence for greens, that area is shaded late in the day. And I see a need to expand the front bed along the walkway a bit, just a bit you know, because there are some plants I want that I don’t have room for. And if I move the log border back around the pine tree in the center of the yard I’ll have room for one more flowering shrub on the edge of that. Spring fever is real folks; it messes with your mind.
Hey – I just got a catalog from Gilbert Wild and they have a clearance sale on daylily varieties they are discontinuing, number one size clumps of very nice older varieties for only $2.50 each. http://www.gilberthwild.com/products.asp?dept=33
On line I saw they also had some iris varieties on clearance. I’m not getting anything for mentioning this, just looked like a good deal.
Lots of catalogs have special sales through the end of this month. If you are going to order plants now is the time to do it. I spent part of the week looking at on line catalogs again this week while adding them to my garden catalog page to the right of the blog. I have got to stop doing that as I get too many ideas about what plants I must have.
Great Backyard Bird Count
Fill those birdfeeders it’s the Great Backyard Bird Count February 17th -20th . Take part in some citizen science and observe the birds in your yard for a short time in your yard on one of these days. It’s quite easy and you can look at data coming in from all over the world as people count birds. This is a joint research project by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. You simply look at and count birds for a short time and then enter your counts on a form on line.
Don’t worry if you aren’t sure exactly what kind of bird you are looking at. There’s a way to record birds you aren’t sure of. There are also photos of birds, Id tips, bird sound recordings and other things on the site. You can look at maps from last year and see what birds were recorded around you. You don’t have to have a bird feeder, you can take a walk or slow drive and count birds too.
Knowing what bird species are showing up where and numbers of certain birds helps researchers track declining populations of birds and how birds are responding to climate change. You can create an account and track your own bird sightings from year to year or just count birds one time. I’ve been doing this for several years and it’s fascinating to see what birds others in my area and around the state are counting.
The US, UK and India are major contributors to the count but people all over the world participate. Why not join them this weekend? Here’s the link
Flowers for Valentine’s Day?
According to statistics about 35% of us are going to buy flowers as a gift this Valentine’s day and in the process spend about 2 billion dollars. The great majority of those flowers will be red roses, 110 million of them. Roses of another color are in second place, then mixed bouquets and plants.
California produces about 60% of the roses sold in floral shops throughout the year but red roses for Valentine’s Day come mainly from South America, particularly Columbia. About 70% of all florist cut flowers are now produced in Columbia for the US market. The businesses in Columbia got their start when the US eliminated import fees in 1991 on cut flowers from Columbia. This was done to encourage investment in flower farming instead of growing coca to produce cocaine.
In the Bogota Savannah and the Rionegro Valley of Columbia near the Andes Mountains the days are long and warm, the nights cool but frost free, and the soil fertile. Most flower crops are grown in greenhouses or hoop houses, but some are field grown. All kinds of flowers are grown from roses to mums to supply the florist markets. The farming of flowers provides work for thousands of people, especially women.
There’s a lot of hard work from grafting to weeding to harvesting and packing flowers for shipment on the 300 some flower producing farms in Columbia. Wages are low by our standards but people appreciate work in a field other than an illegal one. Child labor and pesticide use/exposure were big problems at one time but Columbia has worked to reduce both. In fact most flower farms are now modern facilities, many have day care programs for workers children, and they sponsor many educational and charitable programs.
Columbia celebrates its incredible diversity of native botanical species as well as all the non-native species it grows with many botanical gardens and parks throughout the country. Jose Celestino Mutis botanical gardens in Bogota, near the major flower farming region is both a marvelous public botanical garden and a botanical research center.
The weeks prior to Valentine’s Day are frantic in Columbia. In the week before the holiday about 24 large jets each holding up to 50 tons of flowers will take off for the US. All of those flowers have to be cut, inspected, and packed in a very short time span. Most of the planes are bound for Miami, Florida where the flowers are inspected by customs then sent to distributors. The flowers must be kept chilled the entire journey from farm to florist.
In the language of flowers red roses signify passionate love. Three red roses are said to mean “I love you”, 11 roses to say “I complete the love”, meaning you are the 12th in a dozen-( that sounds silly to me) and 3 dozen red roses means “I have given you my heart”. Since red roses probably cost more at Valentine’s Day than they do the rest of the year, the number of red roses you get may just reflect what the giver can afford.
Can you grow your own chocolate?
With today being Valentine’s Day many people are thinking about chocolate. It’s considered to be one of the top Valentine’s Day gifts after roses of course. But if you love plants you might be asking – can I grow my own chocolate? The answer is you can probably grow a chocolate (Cacao) tree with a little care, but unless you are living in a tropical growing zone you probably won’t be able to produce anywhere near the amount of cacao seeds it would take to make a single candy bar.
Cacao, or cocoa (Theobroma cacao subsp. cacao and. T. cacao subsp. Sphaerocarpum) is native to Central and northern South America but is now grown in several other countries near the equator. Africa probably grows the most commercial cocoa now, but even Hawaii produces a small crop. Please don’t confuse coca from which we get the drug cocaine, with cocoa or cacao. They are distinctly different plants.
|Cacao plant - Logee's picture|
Cacao is farmed, but more than 70% of the commercial crop is still produced by small farmers in a semi-wild state. It’s a tricky crop to grow because it needs very specific conditions. It needs warmth and humidity, light shade, especially when young, protection from strong winds, the right soil conditions and to get the flowers fertilized it needs certain small insects to visit the flowers. Then of course there is a tricky harvest and fermenting process before the beans can be used to make chocolate.
People in southern Florida have grown cacao plants outside in sheltered areas but outside of southern Florida and Hawaii, most American gardeners will need to grow their cocao plants indoors most of the year. This can be done, but it’s a bit of a challenge.
Cacao plants can be purchased from several tropical plant suppliers. Logee’s is one. (Find a link to Logee’s and other tropical plant sellers on the garden catalog page to the right of the blog.)The plants will be small when you purchase them, but in nature cacao is a small tree about 25 feet high with an extensive taproot. Trees don’t produce flowers and seed pods until they are several years old and about 4 feet tall. The cacao plant does make a handsome houseplant but if you want to see flowers and fruit pods you’ll have to let it become a pretty large plant with a deep, large pot.
Cacao description and habits
The cacao plant has glossy oval leaves that can get 4 inches wide by 24 inches long. New leaves are reddish, and they gradually become bright green. The leaves are able to move and adjust their angle of attachment to the stem in relation to the amount of sun they are receiving. This is accomplished by a swollen area at the leaf base called a pulvinus. It is normal for the plant to shed its lower leaves as it grows.
When cacao gets about 4 feet high, with a stem about 1 ½ inches in diameter and several branches, it may bloom. Cacao has an unusual bloom habit in that the flowers pop out of a spongy bark layer on the main stem and older branches. This is called cauliflorous flowering. The plant usually has numerous flowers and produces them all through the year. The flowers are small, pink or white, with 5 petals.
Cacao flowers have both male and female organs but most cacao plants are not self-fertile. They need the pollen from another plant to fertilize the female stigma. This complicates growing cacao inside, because generally you will need two plants to get fruit. There is one variety of cacao that is self-fertile called ‘Amelonado’. You could ask the company you get your plant from if it is that variety.
Cacao flowers have to be hand fertilized when inside. Tiny insects fertilize plants outside. When fertilized the flowers turn into either red or green fleshy pods with grooves in them. When ripe the pods turn yellow or orange yellow. Inside a ripe pod will be 20-60 pink to red seeds (they turn brown when dried) and a creamy, gelatin like pulp which is sweet and quite edible, although it does not taste like chocolate.
Cacao often produces more pods than the tree can support. It does some self-thinning by letting certain pods shrivel, turn black and fall off, but farmers often thin the crop so the trees are not stressed. It’s unlikely a home indoor gardener will have this problem.
You could start cacao from seed but the seed needs to be planted soon after the pods ripen for good germination. Its unlikely most gardeners would have access to those seeds. Nurseries start plants from seeds or cuttings. You’ll probably want to start with a small potted plant. The plant will generally be a single stem for the first 2-3 years and then begin to branch at the top.
While they grow in the shade of larger trees in nature cacao plants grown inside need bright light. In the winter this could be a south window but by March they should be moved away from the window a foot or so or moved to an east window until November. You can also use grow lights, about 12 hours of light is good. If you move the plants outside for summer do not put them in full sun. You should try to find them a spot under a tree where they get filtered light or on a roofed porch or deck or the north side of a building.
Cacao should be kept above 50 degrees and in a humid environment. Do not put plants outside for a summer vacation, which they love, until the weather is warm and settled and bring them in early in the fall. Plants should be kept out of windy areas outside or drafts inside. Increase humidity indoors to about 60 % or higher if you can. Misting in the morning helps, humidity trays or a humidifier may be needed. A warm, humid greenhouse would be ideal, but some of us don’t have that.
When you get your potted cacao tree let it adjust to the environment for a few weeks before transplanting it. Transplant the tree into a larger pot when it has grown a few inches. Move the plants up to larger pots every 6 months or so instead of planting a tiny plant in a very large pot. Be very careful not to break or damage the large main taproot when transplanting.
Cacao needs a loose but well drained soil that is able to maintain a consistent moisture level. Use a good soilless mixture, not garden soil in the pots. Many home gardeners use an African Violet potting mix. Preferred soil pH is slightly acidic, 6.5.
When your cacao plant is as large as your home can handle stop transplanting it and you can prune some growth off the top to keep the plant from touching the ceiling.
Cacao needs to fertilized for good growth and possible fruit set. Indoor gardeners can use an African Violet fertilizer or other blooming plant fertilizer that has some magnesium in it. This can be a granular slow release fertilizer mixed into the soil or one you mix with water. Dilute the water soluble fertilizer to half the recommended dosage on the label and use it each time you water.
Keep cacao plants moist, but never water logged. Water until the water runs into the saucer underneath the plant and then dump the saucer. Every six months leach the soil by sitting the plant in a tub or sink and letting water run slowly on the pot and out the bottom for about an hour.
Inside cacao sometimes gets whitefly or mealy bug like other plants and should be treated for them the same way. It is normal for cacao to drop its lower leaves and most growers in the home environment will experience the browning of leaf edges during the winter die to low humidity.
If you get flowers, lucky you. If you want to try for pods you can remove the male anthers from one flower and rub them on the stigma of another flower. If you have the ‘Amelonado’ variety this could work. If not you’ll need the anthers from another plants flowers. If you have a greenhouse or tropical conservatory near you, ask if they have cacao in flower that you could trade anthers with.
If you get pods after that you will probably not have enough seeds to make chocolate with so I won’t cover the harvesting/fermenting process. However you could taste the sweet pulp inside for a unique experience and maybe use the seeds to start new plants. Never pull off the pods, it damages the flowering area, use a knife and cut them off.
If you like a challenge and houseplants that are different, cacao may be for you. If you are a person in a tropical planting zone you could contact your local county Extension office for directions on planting cacao in the ground.
Anthuriums- Boy Flowers
While some people give red roses as a Valentines flower some are a bit more mischievous and give anthuriums instead. Anthuriums are also known as Boy Flowers because the “flower” of the plant has a resemblance to male anatomy. Other common names for the anthurium include Flamingo flower and Tail flower. Anthuriums may be found as potted plants around Valentine’s Day (and at other times) or the flowers may be found in distinctive floral arrangements. In the language of flowers the anthurium flower is said to mean hospitality. Huh?
There are more than 130 species of anthuriums but few are found in cultivation. Two species of anthuriums; Flamingo Flower (Anthurium scherzianum) and Painter's Palette (Anthurium andreanum) and some hybrids of these are sold as flowering houseplants. Some species of anthuriums are also used as foliage plants in the homes and greenhouses of collectors who can afford the pricy and finicky plants. Florida and the Netherlands produce most of the flowering potted anthuriums.
Hawaii produces great quantities of cut anthuriums for the florist trade, varieties with large flowers and strong stems. In Hawaii some gardeners also grow various species of anthuriums outside. Hawaii greenhouses and nurseries also produce many of the foliage species of anthuriums that collectors covet.
Boy Flower anatomy
The anthurium “flower” is actually a modified leaf, or bract. In most species it is an elongated heart or hood shape and is colored red or orange in color. This bract is called a spathe. Species of cultivated anthuriums have now been developed that have pink, yellow, purple, white and variegated spathes but red is still the most popular. The spathe is thick with a waxy, shiny look that looks almost artificial.
At the base of the spathe a long spike called a spadix pokes upward. The spadix is closely packed with the tiny true flowers of the anthurium. These flowers have both male and female parts. Spadix flowers are usually yellow or white. Each flower will eventually turn into a fleshy berry with two seeds inside.
Anthurium foliage is also attractive. The leaves are heart shaped, deep green and shiny in the species kept as flowering houseplants. But some rarer anthuriums have velvety leaves, or broader leaves marked with beautiful vein patterns. Most of the foliage anthuriums are difficult to grow in normal household conditions and require a greenhouse and dedicated gardener.
Most anthuriums come from tropical areas of Central and South America. They are often epiphytes or “air” plants in nature although some species grow in the ground. Most species are sprawling or vine-like. The anthuriums cultivated as houseplants are grown in a coarse, well drained media in pots.
If kept in good light, warm, lightly fertilized and watered correctly anthuriums will actually bloom for long periods or if in perfect conditions almost continuously. They can be a bit tricky as a houseplant and are not for those indoor gardeners who practice benign neglect.
The suggested medium for anthuriums in cultivation is equal parts of peat, perlite and shredded bark. A potting mix for orchids will work. (In Hawaii anthuriums are sometimes grown in macadamia nut hulls. ) Plants should be kept slightly root bound, which means the pot should not be much bigger than the root system. When you buy a potted anthurium it will probably not need re-potting for a year or two.
Anthuriums need bright but indirect light. They will flourish in an east window or a few inches from south or west windows. Strong direct sun will burn the leaves. They must be kept above 65 degrees F. for good flowering but below 90 degrees F. Keep them out of drafts. Plants need to be kept above 45 degrees F. to survive.
Humidity is essential to flowering and good looking foliage in anthuriums. If you don’t use a humidifier in the home the anthurium pot should probably be set over a tray of water and misted frequently. But while they like humidity they absolutely cannot stand over watering. They should be watered well and then allowed to dry out just slightly but not to the point of wilting, before watering again. Brown ends on the foliage and flower spathe mean the humidity is too low or that you are over or under watering.
Anthuriums require light but continuous fertilization to bloom. Slow release fertilizer is usually incorporated into commercial potting mixes that plants are potted in for sale and so you probably won’t need to fertilize for a month after purchase. After that you can use a fertilizer with a low nitrogen ratio such as 7-9-5 either in a slow release granular form or as a liquid at every other watering. Many growers suggest a flowering houseplant fertilizer mixed at half strength.
The Flamingo Flower or Painter’s Palette anthriums get about 2 foot high and wide at maturity. These species or similar hybrids are relatively easy to find in places that sell potted house plants. Make sure they are well protected from the cold as you transport them home. Other species of anthuriums can be found in specialty stores and catalogs but can be very expensive.
Anthurium plant parts are poisonous and handling the plants may also give some people a rash.
For the gardener in your life a Valentine’s Day gift of a Boy Flower may make the day special. And if you opt instead for a floral arrangement featuring anthurium flowers you are giving a special gift that can last for weeks.
Question of the week- Which is better, seed tapes or pelleted seed?
Rob from Michigan
Seed tapes and pelleted seed are both made to make planting small seeds easier. Seed tapes have small seeds like carrot seed spread along a paper strip which you simply lay in a furrow. The seeds are usually pressed between two pieces of material. Pelleted seeds are seeds enclosed in a small ball of clay-like material, which makes them larger and easier to handle and space in a row. Both tapes and pellets can be organic and they are almost always more expensive than plain seeds.
I have planted both pelleted seed and seed tapes. My preference is for the pelleted seed. Seed tapes have the disadvantage of a whole row being dislodged if a cat or chicken, for example, starts digging in one part of the garden. They also seem to wick away water from around the seeds if the paper part is exposed to air. Since most seeds on tapes are small seeds they aren’t covered very deeply with soil and it’s easy for them to dry out.
The pelleting material tends to keep the seed moist, especially if the row is well watered after planting. And if a cat or chicken digs up one spot the rest of the row usually isn’t disturbed.
Either of these methods simplifies planting and keeps you from having to thin out the plants as much. After placing the tapes or pelleted seeds in the furrow make sure to water them well, before covering the seeds. Then water again, unless the soil is really wet.
Happy Valentine’s Day, eat some chocolate it’s good for you
“He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing” ― Cicero
© Kim Willis - no parts of this newsletter may be used without permission.
And So On….
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