Monthly Archives: February 2013

Updates: “Sharry Baby” and Forced Bulbs

"Sharry Baby" Oncidium

“Sharry Baby” Oncidium

Back in December I noticed that the “Sharry Baby” oncidium orchid was growing a spike. Now, two months later, the inflorescence is about 3′ tall, branched and covered with flowers. It’s the first time I’ve ever had an oncidium bloom for me – I find that I enjoy the flowers even more when I’ve grown them myself.

 

 

 

The same it true for the spring bulbs that I potted up in November. I’ve had a couple of pots of hyacinths blossom in the house. There’s nothing like the smell of hyacinths in late winter to remind you that spring is just around the corner.

Forced Hyacinths

Forced Hyacinths

The pot of tulips has blossomed as well. I find that tulips can be a little temperamental when being forced. If the light isn’t right the plants can get too big and if the soil every dries out, the buds can wither. I must have done everything right this year because the pot of tulips is beautiful.

Forced Tulips

Forced Tulips

Look Close – No, Closer!

When a bean seed germinates, you can’t miss it. The large seedling is obvious to anyone with eyes to see.

That isn’t the case when you’re growing begonias. When I was checking on my pot of “Big Rose” begonias (named for their flowers and not their seeds!), it struck me how small these seedlings are. I’ve been growing plants for a long time and am pretty good at seeing when there’s growth. But these begonias are straining my eyes to their limit. (The pictures on this post have a dime next to the seedlings to provide some perspective on their size.)

Begonia Seedling

Begonia Seedling

Begonia seeds are tiny, little more than specks of dust. When I start small seeds like these that can’t be covered with soil, I keep the pot covered with plastic until they start to grow. This provides humidity that makes sure the seeds have the moisture they need to germinate. Once they’ve started to grow I remove the plastic in order to get some air flow around the seedlings to prevent any fungal growth. It took a lot of close inspection to see when the begonias had started to grow.

Begonia Seedlings

Begonia Seedlings

When I look at these tiny seedlings, I’m amazed. In those little seeds that I sowed were fully formed embryos that are able to grow into a plant. Also, that speck of a begonia seed had enough carbohydrate, lipid and protein in it to nourish the embryo until it could start photosynthesising on its own. And from that little seed will grow a begonia plant that will become a foot-high mound of leaves and flowers.

I find seed germination a true miracle. And the tinier the seeds are, the bigger the miracle is!

Why I Love Seed Catalogs – Seed Choice

Seeds aren’t just found in garden centers anymore. I’ve seen displays of Burpee seeds at the grocery store, Wal-Mart, Lowes, Home Depot and other shops. It seems like you can pick up all the seeds you need to grow a garden at most any store. Why would anyone bother ordering seeds from a catalog?

If you take the time to look at the seed displays at all of these stores, you’ll soon realize that they’re all the same.  Each display has the same varieties of vegetables and flowers for sale. This makes sense – Burpee has a standard seed rack that it markets to all the stores in the area.

catalogsThe reason I don’t buy many seeds from these racks is because the choices are very limited. There might be five varieties of tomato, two kinds of beets, four lettuce choices and six different zinnias. This might seem like a lot of choices but when you open a seed catalog, you realize that there so many more varieties from which to choose. Johnny’s lists 72 tomato varieties (not counting those for the greenhouse), Territorial Seeds has 13 different beets, Harris Seeds sells 24 kinds of lettuce and Burpee’s catalog lists 17 zinnia varieties.

I love the descriptions of the different varieties of flowers and vegetables found in seed catalogs. I will admit that I read these with a slightly cynical eye – the glowing descriptions make use of too many adjectives like “superior”, “outstanding” and “wonderful” to be completely trusted! But the descriptions do point out the differences between the varieties.

I like having choices. Over the years I’ve learned that I don’t want to grow generic green beans; green filet beans taste so much better and can only be found in a catalog. I don’t grow any tomato; I grow saladette tomatoes. Seeds for these tomatoes are never in the rack of seeds at the grocery store. I like cactus flowering zinnias; I have to go to a catalog to find them. And while 13 kinds of beets might seem like overkill, to a beet-lover like me, I like to try different varieties to discover which ones I like best.

I do buy some seeds from those ubiquitous racks. The prices are good, the seeds are high quality and they’re readily available. But if I’m looking for a specific variety of flower or vegetable seed, I know that the seeds catalogs are the place to find them. That’s one reason why I love seed catalogs!

Bring Some Spring Inside – Forcing Forsythia

The countdown to spring has started. But if you’re wanted to bring a little spring into the house, forcing forsythia branches to blossom is a good way to do it.

Forsythia Branches

Forsythia Branches

This is one of the easiest late winter projects that you can do. All that’s required are forsythia branches and a container filled with water.

If you have a forsythia bush in your yard (or a friend’s yard), cut some of the branches and bring them into the house. The size of the branches doesn’t matter – cut them to whatever size works for your home.

After collecting the branches and before you put them in a container of water, you’ll want to make a new, clean cut at the base of the branch. The old technique was to smash the bottom of the branches with a hammer and then put them in water. This was believed to help the stems absorb water. In truth, all smashing does is damage the tissue of the branches and cause a lot more bacterial/fungal growth in the water. Instead of using a hammer, just cut the ends of the branches with sharp pruning shears or a knife and immediately place them in water.

When the branches are in a container and arranged to your liking, you can place them anywhere in the house. I like to put them near a window but it’s not necessary because the forsythia buds have already formed and the nutrients to get them to emerge are present in the branches. The only recommendation I’d make is that if the water starts getting cloudy, take out the branches, make a fresh cut on the end of each branch and put them back in the vase after cleaning it and replacing the water.

Forsythia

Forsythia

Within a few weeks, depending on the temperature in your home, the forsythia branches should blossom. The bright yellow blooms are a great pick-me-up for a dreary, late winter day.

The Tiniest Amaryllis

Amaryllis

Amaryllis

A few weeks ago I checked on the amaryllis bulbs that I had stored over the winter. I have some large bulbs that had blossomed last year and had grown larger over the summer, reaching about 4-5 inches in diameter. Mixed in with these larger bulbs were offsets (small bulbs that form at the base of the main bulb) that I had separated from the mother bulb in the spring and grown during the summer. Some were a couple of inches and one was about 1.5″ in diameter.

Many of the bulbs had started to sprout and I could see a flower shoot emerging from the top of the bulb. But what amazed me was that some of the small bulbs were showing flower shoots! I had assumed that it would be at least another year of growth before this little bulbs would blossom.

Amaryllis Plants

Amaryllis Plants

When I saw the bulbs with flower shoots, I potted them up and put them into a sunny window. Now a few weeks later I have three amaryllis getting ready to blossom. One bulb is small – under 3″. Another is little – under 2″. The third is just plain tiny – 1.5″. I don’t know how many blossoms these little bulbs will produce but it’s nice to see that my amaryllis propagation is finally paying off.

Seed Starting has Begun

It won’t be frost-free here in PA until the middle of May so it’s far too early to plant most of the seeds that I’ll be starting inside.

However there are two plants that I have started. The first is a fibrous rooted begonia. These plants grow slowly when they’re small so I started them a week ago.

Onion seeds beginning to germinate

Onion seeds beginning to germinate

The other seeds that I started in early February were onions. Most of the onions that I’ve grown have been from sets – small onion bulbs that are planted in mid-April. But there isn’t a lot of choice when it comes to varieties of onion sets. Also most sets don’t store very well.

If  you want to grow large storage onions you have to either grow them from seed or purchase plants. Last year I sowed some Corpa onion seeds in late February and planted the tiny little plants into the garden in April. (Unlike tomatoes and other tender plants, onions can take some frost so they can be planted before the frost-free date) The few that survived the rabbits produced nice onions in July.

This year I ran across a gardening calendar from Burpee which listed things that you should be doing to get ready for the new gardening season based on your hardiness zone. I was surprised to see that here in zone 6, they recommended sowing onion seeds inside in December or January. That seemed really early but it pushed me to start the onions a month earlier than I have in the past.

Two weeks of growth

Two weeks of growth

I’m growing them in a low container filled with sterile potting mix. The plants are under fluorescent lights and if the leaves get too long (a problem I’ve never had in the past) I can cut off the top few inches without damaging the plants. Time will tell what an extra month of growth will do for these onion plants.

The one thing I do know is that feels really good to begin starting seeds inside in preparation for another year of gardening.

Snowdrops – Harbingers of Spring

While the calendar still says that it’s winter, one look around the yard and it’s clear that spring is on its way.

The buds of the rose bushes are starting to swell. The spring-flowering bulbs are beginning to poke out of the ground. And one plant is already blossoming – the snowdrop (Galanthus).

Snowdrop

Snowdrop

This bulb is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring.  Snowdrops blossom weeks before crocus and other early blooming bulbs.

I planted snowdrop bulbs a few years ago. I had read that these bulbs don’t like to be out of the soil and that many of the bulbs in a bag of snowdrops from a garden center won’t be viable because of being out of the soil for such a long time. I have to say that this was my experience. The first year only one bulb grew and blossomed.

But each year the tiny clump of bulbs is growing – this year I’m up to three blossoms! While these little plants don’t have the visual punch of a tulip or hyacinth, there’s something exciting about looking closely at the garden in late winter and finding a flower in bloom.

Yes, the snowdrops are blossoming so spring can’t be far away.