Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Houseplants a 2020 trend

2019-11 spring cactus

Published Nov. 17, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: “Houseplants: a top garden trend for 2020.”

By Barb Gorges

There is a publication that comes out every fall discussing trends in gardening, written primarily for those in the green industry: nurseries, landscapers, garden centers, etc. Garden Media Group listed eight hot topics for 2020 that commercial enterprises should pay attention to (http://grow.gardenmediagroup.com/2020-Garden-Trends-Report):

  • Increasing city greenscapes
  • Circular economy–waste becoming building materials
  •  Green collar jobs available, especially horticulture
  •  Soil microorganisms and regenerative gardening
  •  Attracting amphibians to backyards
  •  Mushrooms
  •  Indigo, the color and the natural dye
  •  Houseplants

Houseplants is a category I can most easily relate to as I write this on a snowy, 10-degree day at the end of October.

Houseplants have been rediscovered by millennials who yearn for green acres but make do with apartment square footage.

2019-11 220px-Echeveria_elegans_-_1 wikipedia 2

One of 150 varieties of Echeveria. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Succulents are the most popular plant type, according to the surveys Garden Media looked at. And cactus. Echeveria is most popular. There are 150 cultivated varieties of this succulent. All are basically rosettes of thick leaves. They grow slowly, occasionally produce baby rosettes and need less watering than typical houseplants. I’ll have to try one.

Garden Media recommends the astute retailer offer Houseplant 101 classes for the members of the new indoor gardening generation to help them become “Plant Parents.”

That makes me a Plant Grandparent, I guess. I still have an azalea I bought 30 years ago that blooms a couple times a year.

While some people may buy houseplants to clean the air like an air purifier or as interior decoration like other people buy books for the color of their spines, growing and propagating plants is much more fun than that.

My mother started me out with violets when I was in junior high. It’s so easy to cut off a leaf and stick the stem in potting soil and watch for the new plant to grow.

In college it was an avocado tree grown from a pit. And jade plants reproducing from stems cut and planted. For 40 years, I’ve had spider plants that send out shoots looking for a new foothold and I give it to them, sometimes in the same pot, sometimes in a new pot, anchoring the bottom of the shoot to the soil surface with an unbent paperclip until the roots develop.

Philodendron, pothos, ivy and geraniums can all be propagated from cuttings. Sometimes I put the stems in water until I see roots form and then plant them. Sometimes I just stick the stems in the potting soil I find in the garden centers. There are also potting soil recipes online. If you are working with succulents and cactus, you want something grittier than regular types.

A broken piece of my spring cactus (remotely related to Christmas cactus) is growing quickly using the same stick-it-in-potting-soil technique. The key to the method is controlling watering, keeping the cutting midway between wilting and rotting.

Three years ago, the kids gave me a big bouquet for my birthday. As the cut flowers wilted, I pulled them out, downsizing to smaller vases until only two sprigs of greenery remained. And then I noticed they’d sprouted roots. Today they are happily potted up and identified as Buddhist pine.

This summer’s experiment was a piece of ginger root showing green nubbins. I buried it halfway in potting soil and it has sprouted a stalk over a foot tall.

The amaryllises I’ve grown from seed, from a plant from a friend, are nearly old enough to bloom this winter. One I shared with my friend Bonnie bloomed this last summer—she has better windows than me.

And that’s the thing about houseplant propagation—it gets out of hand. You share or at least trade with others, or find new homes for plants that get too big for your house.

Garden Media encourages “Pub crawls or plant swaps” and says, “Meet & Greets with plantfluencers allow people to network with their favorite Insta-celebrity or find other plant buddies.” OK, that last statement makes no sense if you aren’t on Instagram. But plant swapping often happens here in Cheyenne at Master Gardener and Prairie Garden Club meetings.

Finding homes for your plant offspring is easier than finding homes for a litter of puppies or kittens because plants only require a little light, water, soil and far less attention. Just make sure the weather is above freezing when you transport them.

It’s up to you if you end up filling your basement with grow lights and orchids, which I’ve seen happen. What a great place to hang out for the winter!

2019-11 Fantasy Orchids-Barb Gorges

Phalaenopsis is an easy type of orchid to grow. These were for sale at Fantasy Orchids in Louisville, Colorado, when I bought my first one. See my column, https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/orchid-adventure/.


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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 Nov. 18, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and posted 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.