Repost: Water for Elephant Ears


A year ago, April temperatures were warm.  This year, it’s been cool — especially the overnight temps, which have approached the freezing mark.  As a result, my patience to get my hands dirty and to get my tropicals into the ground has grown thin.  My solution?  An experiment.  

Since I did not start any seeds in the potting shed this winter, it’s quite empty.  My plan is to plant the Elephant Ears and Canna in pots, place the pots in the potting shed, and then let the heat get their juices flowing.  And that’s the purpose for this repost — I’ll be doing exactly as I spelled out a year ago.  Happy gardening.

Elephant Ears Dried

Attractive, aren’t they?

The last time I saw my Elephant Ears, they were clipped back, packed into peat moss, and stored in a cement bunker.  With the very warm April temperatures, I couldn’t resist opening up their winter palace.  But unlike Geraldo Rivera and Al Capone’s vault, I found my treasure.

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Repost: Ladies & Gentlemen, Start Your Seeds


Joe and I made the drive from New York to South Florida, and in 24 hours, we experienced three seasons.  We began our journey in winter and then arrived in spring by the time we reached South Carolina. Once in Florida, it was all-out summer.  

This trip is why I didn’t start any seeds in February.  There would be no one to take care of my seedling babies during the final week of March.  Needless to say, I missed working in the potting shed and watching geraniums and impatiens and petunias make their debut onto the world stage.  

It’s the main reason why I’m taking this walk down memory lane, a repost of last year’s seed starting experience and a chance to reminisce.  By the way, seeds will be started when I return to Long Island: zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos — seeds that like to be sown where they’ll grow.  Now that I read that sentence, I like to think of myself in the same way.  I like to be planted where I can grow.

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I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts


Florida?  In summer?  Are you nuts?

If you’ve read any previous posts, you already know the answer to that question.  But in this case, there is a reason to the madness.  In a nutshell — a coconut shell, that is — South Florida will someday be our new home.  About one month before Hurricane Andrew arrived in 1992, Joe and I purchased a house.  Each year since, we have traveled to Fort Lauderdale several times a year to do the most relaxing of vacation activities: yard work.  And as we go about our palm tree trimming and bundling and bagging of debris, we do a lot of planning and dreaming.

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Celebrating Mother’s Day — The Hydrangea Way


It’s Mother’s Day, and in my part of the world, it’s the day when every homeowner is given the nod to go ahead and start planting.  In honor of the day, I thought I would make some Hydrangea babies that would make any mother — including the mother plant — proud.

 

1. In addition to a mother plant, you’ll need the following items (left to right): a dish with rooting powder, clippers, water, sandy soil, and a stick of some sort.

 

2. You’ll next have to select what parts of the mother plant you’d like to root.  Tender green stems, preferably ones that are not ending in a bloom, work best.

 

3.  Once cut, immediately place the stem in water.  You can continue collecting stems for rooting — but always place them in water right away.

 

4. At this point, get the root starting cells ready.  Sandy soil tends to work best because it’s not heavy, which is easier for developing roots.  Use a stick (a chopstick or a pencil works great) to make a hole where the stem will be inserted.

 

5.  Remove a stem from the water and trim off the larger leaves. 

 

6.  You will be left with something that looks like this. 

 

7.  Dredge the cutting, which is still damp with water, in the rooting hormone. 

 

8.  The rooting hormone should stick nicely because of the water.  Make sure that the stem is as covered as possible.

 

9.  Place the stem into the prepared soil, being very careful not to brush off the rooting hormone as you insert the stem into the hole.  Once placed, gently tamp down the soil.

 

10.  When all of your stems are planted, water them in and leave them in a sheltered location.  I usually keep them along the back of the house, sheltered by the eave.  Hydrangeas are fine with shade, but it’s important to protect these babies as best as you can — you know, like a good mother.

 

In a few weeks, you should be able to see which of your transplants has survived.  When roots have developed, the baby Hydrangeas can be potted up.  They may even be ready for planting, in a somewhat sheltered area, by fall so they can overwinter.  In the spring, you’ll be able to transplant them to a permanent location or re-pot them to giveaway as, well, Mother’s Day gifts.

And on that note, I’d like to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day!

I Canna Believe It’s You!


Once the Elephant Ears were cleaned and planted, it was time to turn my attention to Canna.  Like their large-leaved companions, Canna are also over-wintered in brown paper bags filled with peat moss and then stored in the cement bunker at a steady, cool temperature.  (One year, I stored them in the garage, which was too cold and too moist.  The result was a smelly, mushy mess.)

For this demonstration, I’ll use my absolute most favorite Canna, “Black Knight.”  The leaves are big and bold and bronzy red, with hot red blooms.  And the rhizomes, well, they’re meaty.  That’s right.  Meaty.

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100th Post: Water For Elephant Ears


Attractive, aren’t they?

The last time I saw my Elephant Ears, they were clipped back, packed into peat moss, and stored in a cement bunker.  With the very warm April temperatures, I couldn’t resist opening up their winter palace.  But unlike Geraldo Rivera and Al Capone’s vault, I found my treasure.

 1. After a long winter’s nap, the stems, leaf remnants, and roots have withered from tropical green to paper bag brown.

2. To clean each bulb, I shake off the excess peat moss and dirt.  Then, it’s time to husk the dead leaves, stems, and roots. 

3. It takes a little effort, but once cleaned, there is usually a pinkish shoot at the heart of all that brown – the promise of new growth.

4. Some bulbs may still have healthy looking roots.  These I leave on – might as well give the bulbs a head start once they’re planted. 

 5. This Elephant Ear collection began years ago with the purchase of one bulb. Over time, smaller bulbs developed, like the one pictured here (toward the right), and these can eventually be separated, either manually or on their own.  I’ve also learned that the bigger the bulb, the larger the leaf.  But the smaller bulbs also have value – they can be kept in pots and moved around the garden as filler.

6. To plant the bulbs, the toughest part is choosing the right sized pot.  I add some potting soil to the pot, settle the bulb into place (shoot side facing up, of course), and then fill until the crown is just below the surface. 

7. I’m sure I make more work for myself by first potting the Elephant Ear bulbs.  With the pots, however, I feel I have more control over the plants.  If there should be a frost, I can move the collection indoors.  If a bulb fails to bloom, I won’t have an empty area in the garden.

8. Once planted, I place the pots in a sunny location and water daily.  These are tropical, and they thrive on heat and moisture.  Once they develop leaves, it’s into the garden they go – usually to a partial shade location.

A special thank you to Elaine from Ramblings from Rosebank for suggesting that I post a few photos of Elephant Ears in their glory days of summer.  

 

Next Post: I Canna Believe It’s You

Hosta La Vista, Baby


Today, I became a man.

Today, I channeled my inner Schwarzenegger, and tackled a division of Hostas – or rather, Hosta division.

The thought occurred to me that the Hostas in the front bed were getting quite large and needed to be divided.  Actually, that thought occurred to me years ago –and Joe has reminded me of this each season.  I always fell back on it’s just not the right time of year to divide – but the shelf life of that excuse was long exhausted.

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A Pot To Call My Own


It seems like only yesterday that I planted these Geraniums, the first of this year’s seeds to be started early — and here they are, all grown up and ready to be moved into individual pots.  The truth is I am always caught off guard each year.  I know this day has to come – and then all at once, all of the sprouts have their first set of true leaves, an indication that I’ve got a lot of transplanting to do. 

Step 1:  I moisten a batch of seed starting mix, which is a little lighter and airier than potting soil and so roots do not have to work as hard to develop and grow.  Keeping the mixture moist not only creates a damp environment for the transplant, but it also keeps down the dust factor for your lungs.  I then fill the cell packs with the mixture.  Using a pencil or the tongue depressor plant label, I make some room for the transplant, deep enough so the roots can grow downward.

Step 2: I then ease the seedling from it’s starting pot.  This can be a little tricky.  I use the plant label as a shovel to help bring out the seedling.  In a starting pot that is more densely packed, I usually unpot the whole thing, resting the potless soil and seedlings on the potting bench.  I am then able to pry out each individual seedling, working from the perimeter to the middle, without disurbing the roots of the neighboring plants.

Step 3: At this stage, be very careful in how you handle the seedling.  I do not hold the plant by its stem or by the first set of true leaves.  Everything is still a little delicate — kind of like the soft spot on a baby’s head — and I wouldn’t want to crush any of  the developing plant cells.  Instead, the only thing I handle are the cotyledon leaves, the “baby leaves,” since these will eventually die as the plant continues to grow.

Step 4: With my plant label “tool,” I place the seedling into it’s new pot.  My goal is to help the roots into the hole’s depth, rather than bunching up near the surface.  I think this helps the overall health of the plant, especially as it continues to mature and is ultimately planted in the garden.  Deeper root development helps to prevent the plant from drying out in arid conditions.

Step 5:  Finally, I place the pot in a tray of water for bottom watering.  At this stage, I do not want to compact the soil mixture too much with watering from above, since that would hinder healthy root development.

 

Now that the Geraniums are transplanted, all I have left are Amaranth, Impatiens, Salvia, Candytuft . . . Hmmmm . . . Do you suppose this is why Joe scratches his head in disbelief each year? 

Ladies & Gentlemen, Start Your Seeds!


The thing about a vacation is that you have to come home.  One day, I was enjoying the warmth of south Florida sun, and the next I was bundled up against the wind chill on Long Island — and there’s no better day to start seeds.  Like many of you, my hands were itching to get dirty and to begin the new growing season.  Since the potting shed was built, this has been my tradition — a step-by-step homecoming.

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Not-So-Wordless Wednesday: That’s A Wrap


I may be the gardener of the house, but Joe also has his landscape love.  One of his greatest loves is palm trees.  His absolute fave is Cocos nucifera, the coconut palm.  If it were up to him, coconut palms would be growing everywhere.  We often joke that he would be to coconut palms what Johnny Appleseed was  to apples — only he would be called Joey Coconuts, which does sound a little — alright, a lot — like a character from “The Sopranos.”

Sadly, coconut palms will not grow in our Zone.  Nor will most other palms found around the world.  So what’s a palm lover to do?  About 7 years ago, we purchased a windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei to be exact, from Stokes Tropicals.  Originally grown in China, the windmill is one of the hardiest of palms, able to tolerate a fairly severe freeze and a light winter snow cover.

But this is Long Island, and winters are unpredictable.  Sometimes mild, but in recent years — cold, snowy, and frozen.  Although the palm receives full sun, there are steps that we must take — or rather Joe must take, with my assistance — to ensure winter survival.