Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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House cats and Houseplants

2018-11CatGrass-Barb Gorges

Sprout nutritious oat grass seeds for your cat and maybe it will leave your houseplants alone. Photo by Barb Gorges.

House cats and houseplants are not necessarily mutually exclusive

Also published at Wyoming Network News: https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/garden-gossip-for-nov-2018-house-cats-and-houseplants.

By Barb Gorges

            “You can have a cat or you can have houseplants. But you can’t have both!” –The cat in the “Pickles” cartoon by Brian Crane, Oct. 11, 2018

Things go bump in the night at our house. About 4 a.m. recently I heard a thump on the other side of the wall, in the bathroom where we’d shut the 6-month-old kittens for the night. The sound had a plastic edge to it—probably a pot falling off the 6-foot-high shelf over the toilet.

Miraculously, the pot of angel-wing begonia flew off the end of the shelf and landed upright in the sink, four feet away. Only a couple leaves were lost. The kittens were no worse for wear.

When I put most of my houseplants out on the patio last spring, we had no cats—until one of the Master Gardeners told me about finding a litter of kittens. “We’ll take two,” I said, having been cat-less for nearly two years.

In September I realized I was going to have to integrate house cats and houseplants again. With plans to thin the indoor garden anyway due to scale-infested spider plants and too many geraniums, I sorted my potted garden. Those that did well in the garage window last winter went there again: geraniums, aralia, schefflera. Those that do OK in dimmer light went downstairs: Boston fern, spring cactus, jade plants. The northeast window plants never went outside: philodendrons and azalea.

The bathroom with its skylight and high shelves is great for ferns, begonias, the peace plant and numerous small specimens of tropical understory plants.

But the amaryllis, orchid and better-looking geraniums need the bright dining room window—in kitten territory. One geranium pot ended up on the floor to make room for a catnap in the sunshine. But now that I’ve left that space open, everyone’s getting along OK. I had to remove the one-year-old amaryllis sprouts though because they resembled grass too much. Later we sprouted some oat grass seeds, “cat grass,” meant to be chewed. A big hit.

I asked Leigh Farrell, a vet at the Cheyenne Pet Clinic if they see plant toxicity problems. “We do see the occasional house plant toxicities—almost all of them are lily (like Easter lily or lilies in flower arrangements) ingestion by cats. If a cat ingests only the smallest amount, it is still deadly…call a veterinarian immediately. There is also Animal Poison Control, 1-888-426-4435. There are a few “fake” species of lilies, not true lilies, and these are not toxic. There are toxic plants in the garden too: onion, red maple leaves, foxglove and oleander.”

While eating some plants will give both cats and dogs intestinal discomfort, or burn their mouths, lilies affect only cats. Amaryllis, also in the lily family and more likely to be seen during the winter holidays, is considered toxic—with the bulb the most toxic part.

You can find a list of plants toxic to cats (or dogs or horses) and a list of non-toxic plants at the ASPCA’s website: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control.

Even though I’ve had cats doze next to toxic plants for years, “It’s whatever is new and different, like seasonal flower arrangements,” said Rebecca Marcy, vet and owner of Yellowstone Animal Health Center, that get even adult cats in trouble.

Beyond toxicity there are other house cat-houseplant issues, like cats scratching in the dirt in big pots. Vally Gollogly had kittens to give away at the last Tuesday farmer’s market of the fall. To protect the bare soil in her big pots, she said she covers them with smaller pots. I tried ponderosa pine cones earlier, but the kittens just pulled them out and batted them around. Luckily their fascination with dirt has waned.

I worry, however, about the kittens knocking pots off tables and shelves and getting hit by them. All my ceramic pots are in rooms the kittens are not allowed in. Everything else is lightweight plastic, and not bigger than the 1-gallon size.

For the safety of the flying begonia, I placed it farther from the end of the shelf. In its original location I put a tissue box right on the edge so it doesn’t look like a landing spot. So far, so good.

Do you have suggestions for increasing the compatibility of indoor house cats and houseplants?

2018-11FlyingBegonia-Barb Gorges

A feat of feline engineering moved the angel-wing begonia from the shelf, top right, to the sink…upright and barely damaged. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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Updates: Bulb forcing and amaryllis seeds

2018-03-01PottedForcedHyacinthbyBarbGorges

Hyacinth bulbs forced to bloom indoors in winter were successful. Feb. 24, 2018. Photo by Barb Gorges.

By Barb Gorges

Back in October 2017, https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/bulb-forcing-brings-spring-indoors-mid-winter/, I wrote about two methods of forcing bulbs. One was the classic hyacinth bulb in the bulb-forcing vase. I also tried three crocus bulbs in three tiny vases. The bulbs were left in the refrigerator for a couple of months to cool and taken out in early January and put in the vases.

2018-03-01ForcedHyacinthbyBarbGorges

Hyacinth in bulb-forcing vase. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Also in early January I brought in the pot of hyacinth and the pot of crocus that were buried in the vegetable garden and covered with a foot of leaf mulch.

The bulbs in vases didn’t do well. They couldn’t seem to grow enough roots. That hyacinth stalk of flowers was about 15 percent the size of the ones in the pot.

I felt sorry for the crocus bulbs in the tiny vases and soon planted them in dirt where they were much happier. That proves you could cool your bulbs in the fridge and then plant them in soil, without wintering them in the garden. But the pot of crocus that did spend two months buried did very well. Interestingly, the yellow crocus bloomed before any of the shades of purple.

I would force bulbs again. If I plant the hyacinth bulbs individually, they would be easier to share with friends, or I could stagger the dates I bring them indoors, prolonging the season of sweet-smelling flowers.

2018-03-01AmaryllisSeedPodsbyBarbGorgesAmaryllis

Typically, my amaryllis bloom in February or March. This year they started blooming in mid-January. Only one decided to hold out until the end of February. Just before the petals of one of the early bloomers started to wilt, I touched the anthers to the pistil and now the seed pods are swelling.

Read about my amaryllis propagation experience in the December 2017 post: https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2017/12/18/amaryllis-reblooming-propagation/.

 


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Amaryllis reblooming & propagation

2017-12amaryllis red Barb Gorges

Amaryllis is a popular flower at Christmas time, but without forcing, it prefers to bloom in spring. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Dec. 17, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Amaryllis beyond the holidays: reblooming and propagation.”

By Barb Gorges

In the pantheon of Christmas season flowering plants, I’ll take the elegant amaryllis and its big blossoms any day. Oh wait, I don’t have any more room on my windowsill.

What started as two amaryllis gifts 10 years ago has become numerous “daughters” and seedlings.

The amaryllis you see listed in catalogs and for sale at garden centers, florists and grocery stores during the holidays are intended to be disposable. But it really isn’t difficult to get them to bloom again, though there is a trick to get them to perform next Christmas. Growing them from seed you collect yourself takes only patience.

Beware

Beware of amaryllis bulbs encased in colorful wax decorated with glitter. They flower without any need for dirt or water because the bulbs are large and contain nutrients needed for blooming. Just set them on a saucer. But it seems to me cruel and unusual punishment to bind a bulb in wax and let it die after flowering.

Beware the decorative pot that may come with your bulb. It doesn’t have a drainage hole. No fuss, no muss. But if you want to keep your holiday amaryllis from year to year, replant it in a pot with a drainage hole. The proper pot size leaves about an inch between the side of the bulb and the side of the pot. Plant the bulb so that nearly half of it is above the soil.

Watering and fertilizing

Without a drainage hole, you are never sure if you have given a plant enough water or if there’s a big underground puddle rotting the roots. It’s best to water a potted plant a bit at a time until water emerges through the drainage hole and then dump the excess water.

Watering amaryllis once a week works in the winter climate of our Cheyenne house which has 20-40 percent humidity, is at 64 degrees Fahrenheit during the daytime and cooler at night. The peat-based potting soil holds water well enough, but I allow the top inch of soil to dry out. Little black fungus gnats mean I’m watering too much.

I fertilize my amaryllis maybe at 25 percent or less of what is recommended on houseplant fertilizer packages. My friend Jane Dorn has an enormous pot of enormous bulbs that bloom two to three times a year and she only fertilizes once a year.

Dormancy for forcing or wintering

If you want to force your amaryllis to bloom for Christmas next year, treat it as a houseplant over the summer. In early September, unearth it carefully, wash off the dirt, trim the roots to 1-2 inches long and trim the leaves 1-2 inches above the neck.

You Tube’s Amaryllis Man Charlie Johnston says to let the bulbs dry for three weeks before refrigerating them for 6 weeks. You can also do this if you don’t have room indoors in the winter for a lot of big floppy-leaved plants.

Take the bulbs out 5-6 weeks before you want them to bloom and repot them. Bulbs are in this condition when you buy them for holiday blooming.

Reblooming naturally

I don’t let my amaryllis go dormant. The first year I had one, I decided to keep watering it year-round and it bloomed again in spring following the next Christmas.

I put my amaryllis plants out for the summer on our covered patio. The roof is translucent plastic, shady by afternoon. It also protects plants from hail and hard rain. I put the plants back inside a sunny window in September and wait.

Looking at my records, flowering begins anytime between the end of February and early April and lasts for a month. My two varieties don’t bloom at the same time as each other.

2017-12amaryllis w daughters blooming--Barb Gorges

This pot of pink amaryllis has a mother bulb, two blooming daughter bulbs on either side, and a couple baby bulbs sending up their first leaves. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Mothers and daughters

If you keep your amaryllis from year to year, you may discover your bulb gets bigger and bigger and/or produces offsets, or daughters. You can leave these new bulbs attached and let them mature and bloom. You may have to accommodate them with a bigger pot at some point.

Or, you can carefully unearth the whole mass and break off the daughters and repot them separately, to give away or keep. The Amaryllis Man soaks his bulbs, leaves and roots in a fungicide for 10 minutes before planting, but I haven’t found that necessary.

See the Amaryllis Man for how to force daughter bulbs to develop by “chipping,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAoIelfGWdg.

2017-12amaryllis w stylus pollination-ready Barb Gorges

Each amaryllis flower has six anthers and a stylus. Pollination happens when the pollen on the anthers starts dusting everything and the tip of the stylus opens. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Seedlings

I found growing amaryllis from seed is surprisingly easy, although it can take four years to get blooms.

First, make sure the flowers get pollinated. I had one plant flower in the summer outside where some insects did the job. I’ve also had indoor plants pollinate themselves or I can help them.

Amaryllis flowers make an excellent demonstration of plant reproduction. There are 6 yellow pollen-tipped anthers. You’ll know when the pollen is ripe because it starts dusting everything. At that moment, the end of the single stylus should be open. You can dab pollen on the end of it.

2017-12amaryllisseeds-BarbGorgesIf you are successful, the ovary will begin to swell right behind the flower petals. A three-lobed pod will develop. Leave it on the flower stem. When it turns brown, it will split open and you can collect the seeds.

Each tiny seed is encased in a flat black wafer. You can give the wafers a couple weeks to cure. Their germination rate will be highest if you sprout them right after that.

2017-12amaryllis seedlings Barb Gorges

The wafer-like seeds of the amaryllis can be floated on water until they sprout in three or four weeks and can be transplanted into soil. Photo by Barb Gorges.

While you can start these seeds as you would flower or vegetable seeds, in a flat of a seed-starting medium like a perlite-peat mix kept moist, I found it more fun and easier (no constant checking soil moisture) to float the seeds on water. After three or four weeks, they sprout tiny leaves and roots with the tiniest bulge of the future bulb. Once they are big enough to grab, you can transplant them as you would any seedling.

But now comes the hard part, waiting for the seedlings to grow up. The Amaryllis Man says some will bloom as early as three years old, but usually it’s four.

Sigh.

That means I have two or three more years before I find out if the cross pollination of my red and pink varieties will yield anything interesting.

2017-12amaryllis seedlings planted Barb Gorges

The amaryllis seedlings on the left are about a year old. The seedlings on the right are newly transplanted after sprouting in water. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Where to buy

If you don’t have any amaryllis yet, it isn’t too late to find them at stores and in catalogs. If you plant a bulb in January, it will bloom at its natural blooming time in early spring.

You may find bulbs marked down at our local garden centers and grocery stores now. Catalogs like Jackson and Perkins or Breck’s offer more variety. And then there’s the Amaryllis Man’s website, http://stores.ebay.com/amaryllisman. If you don’t need your amaryllis in variations of Christmas red and white, he offers some that are orange.

Hmm.

I might have room on my windowsill for one of those if I find another home for my rubber tree….

2018-03-01AmaryllisSeedPodsbyBarbGorgesUpdate, March 1, 2018:

Typically, my amaryllis bloom in February or March. This year they started blooming in mid-January. Only one decided to hold out until the end of February. Just before the petals of one of the early bloomers started to wilt, I touched the anthers to the pistil and now the seed pods are swelling.