Monthly Archives: February 2014

It Might Be So Last Century, But It Works!

I recently received a catalog from Gardener’s Supply Company and the cover caught my eye. It showed a tomato growing in a milk carton with the heading – “You’ve come a long way, baby.” The caption was, “Milk cartons are so last century. Find the most foolproof and fuss-free seed starting innovations inside!”

gsI’ll give the advertisers credit for a catchy cover page. Also, this company wants to sell you all sorts of things to meet your seed starting needs. If you flip through the pages of this catalog, you’ll find lights, soil, trays and containers all to make seed starting easier.

But from my perspective, I don’t think most of these “innovations” are all that important. To start seeds inside the house, you need three things (apart from the seeds): soil, a container and light. That’s it!

The soil that I use to start seeds is a soilless mix that I get from a local garden center. There are lots of mixes out there and some of them are specifically formulated for seed starting. It really doesn’t matter what kind you use as long as it’s sterile. This helps to prevent damping off, a disease that can affect seedlings when grown inside.

When it comes to containers, its only purpose is to contain the soil. I’ve tried a lot of the special containers – Jiffy 7’s, peat pots, trays with individual cells for each plant, etc., etc., etc.. But as I wrote last year (Rethinking the Need for Individual Pots in Seed Starting), I’m questioning the need for all of these special containers. This year I plan on using yogurt containers for starting seeds and then transplanting the seedlings into plastic trays that were once used as containers for storing shoes. I like the idea of re-purposing things I already have.

There are a lot of options for providing light for seedlings. I’ve found that you need some kind of artificial light since plants grown on a window sill tend to get leggy. To provide the light needed to grow stocky seedlings, you can buy light stands with t8 fluorescent lights, t5 fluorescent lights and even LED lights. These are some really nice light stands available but some of these setups can cost well over $500. I’ve found that plain t8 fluorescent light fixtures like the ones I’ve been using since the ’60s work fine. I don’t even bother with the special gro-lights; any fluorescent light works well as long as it’s suspended only a few inches above the plants.

Sure, Gardener’s Supply Company wants us to think that all of their products are vital to starting seeds in 2014. I’ll be the first to admit that many of their items are pretty cool. But all you really need to start your own seeds is sterile potting mix, clean containers and light.

If I drank milk I’d probably still be using old milk cartons to grow my plants. It might be so last century, but it still works!


Help! What Are These Flowers???

In the last post I showed some of the tropical flowers that I photographed and was able to ID with a little bit of searching on the internet. However, there were a few plants that are mysteries to me. If you can identify any of these plants, please comment, letting me know what their names (common and\or scientific) might be. While I like photographing plants, I never feel I’m finished until I know what it is that I photographed! Your help will be greatly appreciated!

No Longer a Mystery Spider Lily (Crinum) Species is still up for grabs - possibly japonicum or asiaticum)

No Longer a Mystery!
Spider Lily (Crinum) species is still up for grabs – possibly japonicum or asiaticum)

Mystery Plant #2

Mystery Plant #2

Mystery Plant #3

Jatropha integerrima (Thanks to Mike W for identifying this plant)

Mystery Plant #4

Thryallis (Thanks to Mike W for identifying this plant)


Some Tropical Flowers for a Dreary Winter Day

I was going through some of the flower pictures that I took while on vacation and decided to share some of them. After a day of sleet and freezing rain, it’s nice to see a little life and bright color, even if it is only on a computer screen!

Desert Rose  (Adenium obesum)

Desert Rose
(Adenium obesum)

Oleander (Nerium oleander)

(Nerium oleander)

Cordia (Cordia subcordata)

(Cordia subcordata)

Ginger (Alpinia purpurata)

(Alpinia purpurata)

Frangipani (Plumeria rubra)

(Plumeria rubra)

Blue Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis)

Blue Porterweed
(Stachytarpheta jamaicensis)

Jasmine (not sure of species)

(not sure of species)

Cream Fruit (Strophanthus gratus)

Cream Fruit
(Strophanthus gratus)

Jungle Geranium (Ixora chinensis)

Jungle Geranium
(Ixora chinensis)

And finally, thanks to a little photoshop fun, Ixora with a softer focus…  an ethereal touch to end this post!



Holy Hanging Heliconia!

hel2 One of my favorite flowers is the heliconia, particularly the hanging lobster claw heliconia (Heliconia rostrata). This tropical flower is one that I’d never seen until taking floral design classes at Longwood Gardens. Hanging lobster claw heliconia is one of those rare flowers that is so unique that once you see it, you’ll never forget it.

Helicoias are related to ginger, bird of paradise and bananas. There are lots of varieties of heliconia – some plants and flowers are small; others are large. Sometimes the flowers are upright while other times they hang. The one thing that’s true for all of the heliconias is that they are tropical plants and their flowers just scream the topics.

Flower of Heliconia Emerging from the Inflorescence

Flower of Heliconia Emerging from the Inflorescence

On a recent trip to Aruba, I found a hanging lobster claw heliconia in full bloom. While I’ve been calling the brightly colored blossom a flower, the truth is that it’s an inflorescence. The flower of the heliconia is small and insignificant; what catches your eye is the inflorescence. The inflorescence of this plants is over two feet long and hangs down among leaves that can reach up to 20 feet in height. This plant doesn’t have traditional stems. The only stems that exist are underground rhizomes; what emerges from the ground are long petioles which support elongated leaves.

Tip of Heliconia Inflorescence

Tip of Heliconia Inflorescence

I would love to grow this plant here in PA but without a greenhouse or a lot of room in my house, the plants are just too big to overwinter. There might be some enterprising gardener out there who’s figured out a way to grow hanging heliconia in the northeast – if so, I’d like to hear about it.

Heliconia Flower

Heliconia Flower

There are smaller heliconias that can more easily be over-wintered but the inflorescences of these plants are small and nothing like the hanging lobster claw heliconia. So I guess for now I’ll just enjoy these flowers (oops, I mean inflorescences) when I see them in a flower shop or if I see one while visiting a tropic locale.

Heliconia Inflorescence

Heliconia Inflorescence