January 11 - City Gardening


January 2011


    Gardening by Wes Porter



                                Epsom Salts: Plant Food                 

                 Plants for the Chinese Year of the Rabbit

               Clivia, An Alternative for Amaryllis Lovers

                                 Garden News in Review


In January everything freezes, wrote the poet Ogden Nash. We have two children. Both are sheses/This is our January rule:/One girl in bed, and one in school. This New Yorkers advice was to spend the winter at the bottom of Florida and the summer at the top of the Adirondacks.

Meanwhile, out in the garden, flyer delivery and mailmen taking a short cut between houses are compacting snow on the lawn into ice. This prevents air from reaching the grass. The result? Next spring expect a trail of dead turf.

Shovelled snow mounded into heaps over dwarf shrubs alongside paths and drives may have a similarly detrimental effect. If possible, spread out evenly: easy when using a snow blower, not so when shovelling by hand.

While outside, check the bird feeder. Our feathered chums are anything but delicate diners. They even defecate on their dining facilities. This, say ornithologists, is a major cause of disease amongst wild birds. Take down, empty and wash or wiped weekly with a weak bleach solution. The same applies to birdbaths. No, most birds dont need a bath in winter. They do need drinking water, however. Clean drinking water at that, uncontaminated with bird droppings.

Diversion No. 1

As of 1st January, Edward Ned Friedman became the new director of Harvards famed Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts, only the eighth in the 138 year history of the 265-acre institution. Research scientist Friedman moved from the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he and his wife, a research botanist, were keen gardeners. Last fall, they put down 80 quarts of tomatoes while Ned, who grows hops, brews his own beer, says The Boston Globe.

Bulbs brighten the winter home. This month sees the commencement of forced spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus, muscari and more starting to appear in every local grocery store, supermarket, florist and garden centre. When purchasing, choose those with the flower buds just showing colour, never in full bloom. They have several features in common: they soak up water like a fish; do best in cool temperatures; and require bright light. Hidden under gaudy foil wrapping is a plastic pot. This is liable to tip from the weight of the blooms; remove gunky wrappings and drop, plastic pot and all into one of clay. All the blooms, and especially those of the deliciously scented hyacinths, may require staking to keep them upright. Giving the pots a daily half-turn assists but may not be sufficient. Cut back the blooms as they die back but retain the green foliage. Move the pots to an out-of-the-way window and keep watering until the ground thaws in spring, then plant out. Forced bulbs will take a season or more to recover but it seems ungrateful not to give them a second chance after the soul cheering display they gave to dispel the winter blaahs. The only ones too tender for this treatment are Paper White Narcissus. Regrettably they must be unceremoniously dumped following their perfumed display.

Diversion No. 2

A couple of glasses of tomato juice a day helps fight osteoporosis, according to researchers at the University of Toronto. The key ingredient is thought to be lycopene, the antioxidant already credited with reducing the risk of prostate cancer in men, as well as protecting against heart disease. Some of questioned about reliance on commercial tomato juice, often loaded with salt, while a plaintive inquiry from Clare of Toowoomba, Australia to the Daily Mail asked whether it was with or without vodka

Shorter days, often overcast do little to relieve the gloom cast upon houseplants. Those grown principally for their foliage should be encouraged to take a rest. Cut back on watering to a bare minimum, refrain from fertilizing and spritz daily to remove the grime for leaves that interferes with photosynthesis. Spritzing also discourages that deadly enemy spider mite which, like small boys, hates water.

An occasional precautionary spray with insecticidal soap may not go amiss. Fuchsia, hibiscus and bougainvillea overwintering inside seem particularly prone to aphid and whitefly attack. Palms and weeping figs (Ficus benjamina) attract spider mites like iron filings to a magnet. The real fault is the dry air in homes overwinter that is good for neither plants nor their patrons.

Diversion No. 3

Three score and ten shalt thy life be on Earth, according to one usually reliable source. Clonal trees get around this by sprouting identical colonies over vast areas, notes New Scientist. A stand of clonal quaking aspens, Populus tremuloides, in Utah may be one of the oldest such examples. While the existing trees seem to be no more than 130 years old, parts of the roots have been dated to around 80,000 years old, says the weekly publication.

Towards the end of the month is a great time to commence propagation plants that is. And by asexual rather than sexual methods, the latter of which more shortly. Asexual, or vegetative propagation to use a less provocative term, is often achieved via stem cuttings. January and February are excellent months for clipping back mother or stock plants saved last fall, dipping their bases in hormone rooting powder and inserting into preparations such as ProMix. Candidates for such treatment are abutilon, fibrous-rooted begonia, bougainvillea, fuchsia, geranium, hibiscus, and impatiens, to name but a few.

A few of the dahlia tubers that were lifted and stored safely away last October can be potted up now. Three to four weeks later, shoots about four inches or so tall will have emerged. They may be similarly harvested as stem cuttings. The tubers can even produce a second crop of cuttings and then saved for summer bedding along with their progeny.

While you have the hormone rooting powder out, why not try leaf cuttings? Idea candidates are African violets. Carefully detach a leaf with the entire stem, dip the end in powder and plant in ProMix. Within in a few weeks, several new plantlets will have formed, although it will take some time before they are ready to be removed and start life on their own.

Diversion No. 4

Gene Stone, the best-selling health writer chews a daily clove of garlic, he informed Kate Fillion in a Macleans interview. Never mind the smell, she inquired, what about the taste? He always has a piece of dark chocolate afterwards, he told her. He carries a bulb of garlic everywhere I go, much to the consternation of the security guards at the airports, who probably think Im Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

On to sexual propagation or, as those already initiated in such matters know, means by seed. To be ready for planting out in late spring, impatiens seed must be sown this month. Geranium seed has also been available for some decades but most gardeners have not been over-enthused with the resulting blooms. These also require sowing in January though. Despite seed packages commencing to be offered in stores it is unwise to start much else for several weeks, although purchasing the most desirable now is a wise move before they all sell out.

This should keep you safely indoors, out of raw gales. Or, to conclude on yet another observation from Ogden Nash: I do not like the winter wind/That whistles from the North/My upper teeth and those beneath/They jitter back and forth.



                 Epsom Salts: A Morsel of Magnesium

Epsom Salts Bath Crystals for use in bathtubs, hot tubs and whirlpool baths, advises the package from Recochem ($3.99 for 2kg at the local drug store). Add four cups to the bathtub for relaxing, soreness and to help soothe away daily stress as well as helps relieve the discomfort of insect bites. Then as a last piece of advice: Suitable as a Plant Food Supplement. This baffled the druggist never mind many a gardener, keen or otherwise.

Epsom salts are naturally occurring deposits of hydrated magnesium sulphate, first discovered at Epsom, Surrey, a county close to London, England, where the Derby horse race has been held annually since 1780 at Epsom Downs race track.

Some claim it as mere garden folklore. Nevertheless, even plant experimental stations have been known to use it on such crops as glasshouse tomatoes. The secondary nutrient magnesium (Mg) strengthens cell walls, is essential for seed germination, and in the formation of seeds, fruit. It is also vital to photosynthesis, a molecule of magnesium being at the heart of the action. The foliage of tomatoes, peppers, roses along with hydrangeas, citrus, hibiscus, even African violets, will turn a deeper shade of green within hours of a liquid application of Epsom salts.

Caution should be exercised not to apply excessive amounts. Recochem does not appear to have any recommendations on this score but it is usually suggested as a single teaspoon per gallon of water every two to four weeks following flower formation.




                                         Plants for Chinese Year of the Rabbit

On the 3rd February in bounds the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, with a choice of representative plants to keep gardeners hopping until 22 January 2012. It is said to be a lucky sign with friendly people who are keen, wise and intelligent, neat and tidy and careful in money matters. People born under this sign make good teachers, gregarious and good hosts but requiring their own lebensraum. Such people include Drew Barrymore, Fanny Brice, Angelina Jolie, Edith Piaf, Tina Turner and Kaye Winslet.

Year of the Tiger ends on 2nd February having been horticulturally represented by the famed Tiger Lily, variously claimed to be Lilium lancifolium, L. tigrinum, L. trigrinum splendens; or should that be L. catesbaei, L. columbianum, L. henryi, L. michiganense, L. phildelphicum, L. superbum? Confusion reigns: some even claim the common daylily, Hemerocallis. And Tigerlily 17768 is an asteroid.

Then again, Tiger Lily is a First Nations girl rescued from Captain Hook by Peter Pan while Whats Up, Tiger Lily? marked Wood Allens debut as a director and Dance, Girl, Dance featured Lucille Ball as an ecdysiast name of Tiger Lily White.

Ironically, just to complete the picture, tiger lilies are poisonous to pussies, so virulent they can even kill cats. It is with some relief then to turn to those less problematic plants we can welcome into our homes and gardens that represent the Laporidae, or rabbit family. Technically, the Chinese Year of the Rabbit is actually the Year of the Hare, Lepus to biologists, and a creature more at home to grasslands than burrows. So Campanula rotundifolia could then be an excellent choice for the cool northern garden

Hare Bell, Campanula rotundifolia also known as Blue Bells of Scotland, an excellent garden plant for sun or light shade, is found in the wild from northern Canada to points south o the border. Nodding blue bells top stems coated with linear leaves, unlike the coarse alien invader, Creeping Bellflower, C. rapunculoides with purplish-violet flowers up wiry stems. There is also a native Western Bellflower, C. peliolata.

Hares Tail Grass, Lagurus ovatus also known as Bunny Tail Grass due to the appearance of the white, oval seed heads, is much valued in fresh and dried flower arrangements. An annual grass originating in Mediterranean regions but is now spread worldwide. Sometimes it is grown as a garden ornamental and as such will self-sow.

Hare Foot Fern, Polypodium aureum also known as Rabbits Foot Fern, thanks to the appearance of its rhizomes originates in tropical America.

Hares Foot Ferns, Davillia species about 40 species of tropical ferns, all with furry rhizomes, hence the common name, and attractive soft green foliage. Several are grown as houseplants, such as D. caneriensis from Madeira and the Canary Islands; D. pyxidata from Queensland; and D. fejeensis from the Fiji Islands.

But let us now hop over to the many choices for rabbit representation:

Rabbitbush, Chrysothamnus graveolens hardy, less than 2 metres tall, with yellow blooms in late summer, but unfortunately rare in garden centres, mainly because it demands dry, alkaline growing conditions such as those found in exposed limestone areas.

Rabbits Foot Fern, Davillia fejeensis the brown, fuzzy rhizomes stretching over the ground give rise to this delicate ferns common name. Originating in the Pacific Fiji Islands, it is occasionally to be found in plant stores. However unless you are into ferns or perhaps orchids this pretty little beauty can be a trifle tricky.

Rabbits Ear Orchid, Dendrobium dalbertisii achieves its common name from the habit of the petals, which stand erect like rabbits ears. An epiphyte like most Dendrobium orchids, originating in Papua, it is pleasantly scented. While fairly easy to raise, this is somewhat of a collectors item certainly not found in most collections.

Rabbit Tobacco, Gnaphalium obtusifolia whitish flowers dry well, hence the alternate name of Sweet Everlasting. Native to eastern and central North America, the foliage and flowers were traditionally brewed into a tea used for numerous medicinal complaints. The fresh juice was claimed to be an aphrodisiac.

Rabbit Foot, Maranta leuconeura kerchoveana despite the botanical tongue twister, this is a great small foliage houseplant for light shade: leaves have a dark green background, lighter green patches between the veins which are a brilliant red. Attractive habit of folding up these leaves at night gives rise to an alternate name of Prayer Plant. If kept barely moist and fertilized monthly it will reward members of the black thumb brigade. Originated in Brazil.

Rabbit Ears, Opuntia microdasys try stroking the young pads of this cactus from northern Mexico and the fine barbed bristles will lodge very painfully under your skin. Certainly this alternatively named Bunny Ears is not one to be fussed. Give it a sunny widow, light watering in summer, cutting back during winter months and you may be rewarded with yellow blooms.

Rabbit Foot Clover, Trifolium arvense  quite why anybody would want to introduce such a form of common clover into the garden is a puzzlement, but a name is a name, and anyway the flower buds do resemble a rabbits paw.




          Clivia An Alternate Bulb for Amaryllis Lovers

If you've become an Amaryllis addict  an admittedly easy thing to do  you should search for another bulb from the same family, Amaryllidaceae, the Clivia. The name commemorates Charlotte Florentina Clive who became the 19th-century Duchess of Northumberland.

Unlike Amaryllis, which has been hybridized from multiple tropical American species, Clivia has but four species, all of them originating from South Africa. Indeed, the species form Clivia miniata from Natal is often still to be found offered for sale with its tall stem bearing as many as 20 orange-red flowers held above long, arching and somewhat stiff dark green leaves. A few hybrids have been developed with blooms varying from pink to the most brilliant red.

The bulbs themselves may be purchased from specialized suppliers, although often at premium prices. More modestly priced specimens may be found at retailers in full bloom, usually in early fall. Keep in bright light in a warm but not baking hot room, with the soil just moist. Fertilize with an organic-based plant food every month.

When all the flowers have faded and fallen, cut the stem hard back. Do not allow to go to seed. This will weaken the plant. If you wish to propagate Clivia, split away offshoots that sprout from bulbs that form alongside the mother plant.

About the end of September, reduce watering until the flower stem is about 15 centimetres (six inches) long, then commence normal watering regime. As with most indoor plants, and especially those that are grown for their blooms, Clivia thoroughly dislikes cold water. Resist the temptation to repot. Like Amaryllis, Clivia do best grown tight in a large clay pot. Just top the pot with quality potting soil each spring. Moving to larger quarters only every few years after it has finished flowering.





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