Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rearranging the Greenhouse, with the Brom Tree

Children, do not try this at home. If you have a greenhouse layout that works, arranged over time by trial and error be careful.

I got the notion that turning the shelving on the left at right angles into the center of the room the way I had it in 2013 was a great idea.


I can't remember why I decided to move the shelves against the wall after I moved the potting bench to the back part of the greenhouse.

Today I moved every plant in the northwest corner outside. I put many of them into the bed of the Mule and the rest around on the ground, some in shade.

Here are views of the bromeliad tree after other plants were out. 
There's a tiny volunteer over in the corner that looks like a shrimp plant.

I kept cutting off the top, like cutting off people's heads in photos.

All are Neoregelias except for the Spanish Moss. Some are solid green because they were in shade. The old plant between the two little green broms on the right finally all died and I picked off that last dried leaf today.

The foliage at upper right belongs to an Epiphyllum.

The brom tree takes up 4 square feet of floor space even when it is crowded, a lot of real estate in a 120 sq ft room. That's probably still less room than 10 bromeliads in single pots would take.

This evening after I got everything leveled, I came in and told He-who-Mows that it was a mistake to let those plants out in the sunshine for an afternoon. "They multiplied and had babies and now there isn't room for everything," I wailed. He laughed. I am still not satisfied with the present arrangement. 

It isn't that there are any more plants, but I was not able to rearrange so there is more room. Yet. One of the inconveniences of old age is the amount of time things take.

There will be more plants. Every time I breathed on the Burro Tails moving them back and forth, little beans fell off. I finally stopped picking them up but several got flung into pots with other little beans forming plants.

2013. Those little orange bits are Violas from seed. 
How I love to look at previous years' seedlings and cuttings.
I have pineapple sage cuttings again this year.

It is time to do more than review previous years and move staging around. Seeds need scattering. Do you have seeds planted?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ten Compromises

There's a new meme going 'round that starts off: Ten Things I Like about My Spouse.

Right now he's caught up in building a Mule Barn for my garden truck and various machines. you can see the Mule Barn layout here Mule Barn

I'm not going to list his good qualities. It's a long list, stretching over more than 50 years. We watched a very old Gunsmoke episode the other night where a widow on the prairie set her sights on another woman's husband because she fancied him a successful man. The wife finally burned down the house and barn which made the old goat much less attractive and they set out to rebuild their life together as the other crazy woman rode off into the sunset. We agreed it was a pretty good show.

I am looking forward to larger drifts of daffodils than the one above that brings promise of bright spring. Meanwhile, there is a single clump that I can see from my kitchen window that thrills me seeing that little clump of 4-5 blossoms at a distance. I may plant more single clumps.

Take Joy in what you have, in the moment.

Monday, January 26, 2015

I Really Rarely Look at Nandina

After Outlaw Gardener wrote about his pretty red Nandina I decided to go out and look at mine. They are kind of akin to fence posts, they were before I came here and I just never think about them.

This is where we cut down the cedar tree preparing for the Mule barn.
Nandinas planted by MIL along what used to be the barn lot will remain to prevent rain washing gullies down a slope. I'll grub out the other scrubby things.

Mockingbirds will build nests in anything.

There was more color than I expected.

The best way to prune Nandina is to take out a few of the older canes, all the way to the ground every year so that there are canes of different heights as they grow back. Sometimes I just have He-Who back a big mower up and whack down the whole clump. 

Nandinas have a way of coming up in the middle of another shrub, planted by birds who I guess spit out the berries when they discover they are unpalatable. 

It is less than comforting to know that Nandinas, like Poke Weed, contain small amounts of cyanide compounds and are edible if one was going to die of starvation, only after boiling them twice and pouring off the water.  

I must admit that I once saw a long evergreen hedge of nothing but Nandina that was fairly attractive in winter with all those red berries.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hope for Hyacinths and Paperwhite Pitfalls

It was a tedious wait to see whether I killed the bloom embryos in my Hyacinth bulbs by storing them with forgotten pears in a refrigerator for several weeks.

Every Hyacinth has a green shoot now. I added moss like
Claus Dalby dresses his.

Today I can see a flower bud! 

Pale bulbs bloom white or yellow. Darker usualy are blue 
or pink, so I sort bags of mixed bulbs and planted like colors.

Narcissus had mixed results. The pot bottom left has only
two bulbs that are firmly rooted. Roots rotted on the others.

Bulbs in this pot are rooted and three have buds. 

February, 2013
This is why it is hard to choose a fav.

The plastic pot of bulbs has an open bloom.

These were not purchased narcissus bulbs. They came from the garden of our neighbor John, who lives in the family home where Mrs. Vera planted these bulbs decades ago. He dug a peck basket full for me last fall. I planted most of them in the ground and filled 3 pots.

Prior to this year I had vowed to plant no more narcissus. This year I decided to try potted narcissus using the fattest bulbs from John.

Next year I plan to have all Hyacinths. Purple shades. Plans are subject to change when made months in advance.

2013: plans for more like these in 2015.

Did you force bulbs? Will your plans change in 2015?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Native Plants: Elephant's Foot

While there is so little to see here until Camellias fully bloom I have a notion to make a series of posts of native plants that grow here. Where cows used to run is now just meadow. Plants come and go: grasses, wildflowers and trees. I managed to identify a number of them in the past 20 years since I first discovered Elephantapus and enlisted a professor at University of Florida to identify it by a written description alone. Fortunately it was not a rare plant and he knew what I was talking about.

Elephant's Foot

Elephantapus is distinguished by a tricorn shaped bract that holds small pink flowers and by a large flat leaf near the ground. September is the main bloom time here.

Blooming at the same time as Elephantapus are Silk Grass, Goldenrod, Rabbit Tobacco, Eupatorium, Asters, Lespedeza and False Foxglove.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

January Bloom Day 2015: Struggles

We had some freezing nights last week. Blossoms that had ventured out were burned. Winter blooming plants usually hold back tight buds to replace those that are damaged by cold so that bloom continues. Warmer weather brings more blossoms.


'Blood of China' Camellia

A look at freeze damaged blooms and tight buds

Loropetalum's fringes seared by frost.  
Note emerging new blooms.

Taiwan Cherries were in full bloom when freezes came.
One tree was later and has new buds opening.

Early Daffodils are undeterred.


Narcissus forced in soil.


Last of Schlumbergera

Last of Schlumbergera

In the house, Christmas Poinsettia still looks fresh as does the Orchid I bought before Christmas. Two Orchids of long standing have bloom stalks with tiny buds. I take Joy in buds that are always coming on somewhere even in winter.

Take Joy in Bloom Day all over the world at May Dreams Gardens.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dirty Little Greenhouse Secrets

I wrote this a year ago when Imaginary Friends were planning greenhouses in 2014. These are the things experts do not tell you about hobby greenhouses.

Too much is never enough. When the last plant was tucked in last fall, He Who Mows said he thought I needed a bigger greenhouse. Perhaps I need to limit what I grow and bring inside.

I frequently look at Pins of Greenhouses online. Favorites of Pinners run to ancient ruins that could never be heated with obviously rotten window frames and tendrils of vines growing through gaps. Favorite accoutrements are chandeliers, upholstered chairs and tables with seating for eight. Rarely do the faves have an abundance of plants, mostly just a palm and some nice pots or even Bunny Mellon's famous greenhouse with all the trompe l'oeil. My tables for 8 are mostly for 8 pots of something.

Last year's Kalanchoes are now 14 inches high and budded. They graduated from here to  the back shelf of the potting bench for more light. 
They are so top-heavy they'll need cachepots to keep them upright.
(2015 note: I planted the Kalanchoes outside last summer and took cuttings, starting over in the fall.)

The primary components of a working greenhouse are damp and dirt. A dry greenhouse does not make for happy plants, so everything must be water resistant. In dry climates, some kind of mist system makes for very happy plants and helps with the tendency of a green house temperature to quickly rise to 30 degrees higher than the outside on a sunny day. Where the water from the mist settles determines placement of certain components, like a potting bench, painted items and electrical panels.

Dirt is a given. Potting soil does not stay in pots; transfer of potting medium from a bag to a container makes for dust and spills. Dead leaves and blossoms tend to fall or need removing. I can't sit and drink tea; I have to pinch dead blooms and sweep up.

I have not found it possible to store enough of daytime heat generated by the sun to keep the greenhouse warm all night, but ample thermal mass helps to mediate daytime heat and nighttime loss. Thermal mass in the form of water, concrete and brick must be carefully utilized. My water barrels support a broad shelf across the east end of the greenhouse. Sunny days mean a ventilating fan runs to try to keep temps down to 90 degrees. When we got back from Rose City this morning, it was 51º outside and the closed greenhouse was 81º -- quick, open the door!

Believing that every little bit helps, I fill 6-8 one-gallon jugs early afternoon that I use for watering the next day so they have time to absorb heat from the sun and give it up during the night. The floor is covered with a square path of concrete pavers with brick, urbanite and loose pebbles in the center, more mass and kind of decorative too.  You cannot have too many stones and brick. I have pots sitting around full of stones waiting for homes, absorbing heat in the meantime. If I can't have plant pots close together, they may be separated with a pot of stones or some other heat retaining mass.

Yeah, I do a lot of hand watering. Just directing a hose-end sprayer toward some pots doesn't work for me. I need to pull that plastic pot from its ceramic cache pot and check the heft of it, note if some mean bug has gotten on a plant and see if I need to do anything else after I make sure the plastic pot drained before I put it back in the cachepot so it doesn't sit in water.

Cachepots are not just for decoration, they help keep cheap plastic pots from falling over when foliage gets top-heavy and provide more thermal mass and a bit of space between the plastic pot and the outside one where little frogs can keep warm.

Heaters take space. I use two electric heaters turned to low. They need floor space where they don't blow directly on plants. During a warm spell they get moved away from the electric panel and back when it is cold again .

Seasons change. Pots that were prominent at Christmas lose their blossoms and need to move to make room for late winter plants in bloom, in turn replaced with spring seedlings. It's fruit basket turn over much of the time: making room for bulbs, moving some pots to the sun or in the shade.

Frog Poop, did I mention frog poop? It's everywhere in places like bromeliad leaves. Large commercial greenhouses spray for everything. I spritz around a little soap and olive oil sometimes for white fly but mostly I depend on critters' help. Little green peeper frogs are everywhere. One usually leaps on my head when I open the door at night or early morning. Green frogs leap out of cachepots when I pull out a pot to water.

I have to watch for toads making themselves a home in moist potting soil. Critical plants have to be up high, not at floor level if they haven't room for a toad. Anoles and eastern fence lizards roam freely. Insecticides are not on my agenda. Once you start, the critters are gone and spraying has to be kept up. Rare sick plants get tossed here. I discarded a diseased Amaryllis the other day. Things like scale get rubbing alcohol swabbing.

I've seen complaints about greenhouse mice. A greenhouse cat means no mice, but the cat has to have space. Ike the cat claims part of the potting bench, which needs to be cleared anyhow and a space back behind the potting bench that is a little shadier. I leave him a clear path to get where he thinks he must go and take care to block where he just wants to climb over plants chasing anoles.

I do make one exception: I use chemicals outside in the war against fire ants to keep them out of the greenhouse. I've become a little more benign against armadillos when they're digging into fire ant beds ahead of the chemicals.

The really odd thing in a greenhouse is that plants tend to grow. I'm always giving something a bigger pot. Pieces just will break off and I am not about to toss something that might take root, given a little pot and a bit of soil. What started as 6 different Schlumbergera were soon 24 at summer's end. It's like finding homes for puppies -- you want them to go, but to good homes.

Faced with an abundance of spider plants, begonias and foxtail fern at the beginning of fall, I jammed them in pots together.  Dozens of Alternanthera cuttings will fit into a coffee mug. Persian Shield and Purple Heart share a long planter. They'll be handy in spring when I need lots more purples and chartreuses outdoors.

Happy New Year. I hope you get a greenhouse, a big one.
If you have a greenhouse, I wish for you accoutrements.
Be prepared for dirt and damp but it isn't really work.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Return to Meadow

Nature wants it back. This past year peanuts were planted in what had been a natural meadow for a while.

An area behind the pecan tree from the left all the way to an fence line on the right will return to a wild meadow state this year. Field debris has already been burned in anticipation of a dove shoot.

My last meadow effort failed because I planted only spring annuals. Summer came and bermuda grass took my meadow, which was forward of the area about to return to the wild.

I know that we can depend on Solidago to return with little effort on my part, and Bidens and Ragweed too.

Among self-planted natives here are rabbit tobacco, sumac,
 big bluestem, wild cherry  and goldenrod. 

I may wait to see what self sows before I scatter many seeds. I do expect Bermuda grass to return quickly from roots among Bahia grass which holds the soil. Emerging plants depend on what birds scatter, what the wind blows in and what dormant seeds left in the soil from years past were brought to the top during cultivation. 

Mowed paths are my favorite landscape element.