Friday, February 19, 2010

New blooms in the greenhouse

Some of my plants have been surprising me with blooms lately.  I figured the lower sun angle would be enough to trigger dormancy in some plants, even in the 65 degree temperatures of the greenhouse.  But none of my plants are going dormant and some of them are blooming for the first time.

Our neighbor across the street (the one who gave me the Begonia cuttings) is letting me overwinter her variegated Bougainvillea in my greenhouse.  It is in a hanging pot along a rod I installed in the top of the greenhouse and has just been hanging in there.  It didn't have a lot of leaves when I took it from her and I haven't seen very many new ones form.  But all of the sudden, it is blooming!  I think I will have to run it over to her house soon (on a warmish day) and show her the blooms.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="First blooms from my Bougainvillea plant"]First blooms from my Bougainvillea plant[/caption]

I also have a Bougainvillea that was my Mom's.  She gave it to me about three years ago.  It has had moments of rapid growth and lots of new leaves, but always drops its leaves and looks really sad in the winter - until the greenhouse.  It has been pretty happy this winter in the greenhouse and is actually  producing the first blooms that I have seen on it since it has been in my care!

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="New blooms on my purple shrimp plant (Justicia scheidweileri)"]New blooms on my purple shrimp plant[/caption]

I bought several Shrimp plants last Spring and Summer, most of which were blooming when I bought them and have continued to do so.  One of them, the Purple Shrimp Plant (Justicia scheidweileri), has been particularly difficult, though.  It wilts quicker than another other plant that I grow.  But it also bounces back quickly and is blooming for the first time since it lost its initial blooms.

After forming some small white flowers, which I didn't photograph in time, my Ying Yang Bean plants (Phaseolus vulgaris) are now forming pods of new beans.  I hope to get a decent crop from these plants, so that I can keep a bean or two myself and share the others with other local greenhouse owners.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Newest bloom on my yellow Datura"]Newest bloom on my yellow Datura[/caption]

My lime tree and yellow Datura continue to bloom on a regular basis.  I dropped seeds from the Datura parent plant onto the soil under the same plant and some of the have sprouted and are producing new little plants.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Seedlings of my yellow Datura plant"]Seedlings of my yellow Datura plant[/caption]

I am anxious to see some of my Hawaiian ginger plants bloom, but that might have to wait until this Summer.  Some of them are quite large now - over 4 foot tall.  I would expect those are pretty close to blooming size.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bonsai Pruning

Last week I spent two days at the Myriad Botanical Gardens as a volunteer, and it was great.  There's really not a better working environment than to be surrounded by tropical plants all day long.

The first day I spent working with the Education Coordinator, who is also in charge of taking care of the Bonsai trees.  The Myriad Gardens' Bonsai trees are kept in the propagation room, outside of the public view, until there is a special occasion to show them.  This room is packed with hundreds of orchids, which are moved into public view as they come into bloom.  The Bonsai were donated by a grower more than 20 years ago and have been maintained by the same person at the Myriad Gardens since then.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Pruned and wired bonsai tree (Ficus sp.)"]Pruned bonsai tree[/caption]

Having never really worked with Bonsai before, I was given a 5 minute introduction and a pair of pruners.  I forgot to take my camera the first day I worked, so the only  pictures I have are after my pruning work.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Several bonsai trees after being pruned and wired.  The small-leaf Ficus tree in the center has had two branches anchored with wire to the roots, to create two areas of low growth."]Several bonsai trees after being pruned and wired[/caption]

I went to work, hacking away at four different Bonsai trees: three Ficus (two different species) and one small-leaved Schefflera.  We pruned both the growing shoots and the root ball, before repotting them with new soil and replacing them on the growing benches.  I also had the opportunity to work with the growth angles of several branches, wrapping them in wire and reorienting the growth or weighing the branches down by anchoring wire to the base.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Wired branches to redirect growth"]Wired branches to redirect growth[/caption]

Before the trees were donated to the Myriad, some of them had been neglected due to the owner's poor health.  Some of the trunks had been wrapped in wire that was not removed soon enough and left scars in the trunks.  Although the trunks have been healing, the scars are still apparent after 20 years.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="A branch anchored to the roots for lower growth.  Scars are apparent on the main trunk on the right side of the image."]A branch anchored to the roots for lower growth[/caption]

It will be exciting to see how full these trees become as a result of my pruning and to see how they respond to the wiring.  Unfortunately, this May the gardens will be closing its doors for a year, to go about extensive reconstruction.  Many of the plants (including most or all of the Bonsai) will be sold in a plant sale this Spring.  This might give me the opportunity to buy one of the trees I have been working on.  But the prices might be a little prohibitive, too.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Carrion Flower

The Carrion Plant (Stapelia gigantea) is a rather inconspicuous plant when not in bloom.  This lanky, hanging succulent thrives in dry conditions.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="The Carrion Plant (Stapelia gigantea)"]The Carrion Plant (Stapelia)[/caption]

However, the large bud that forms on a happy plant will alert you that something is about to happen.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Stapelia gigantea bud"]Stapelia gigantea bud[/caption]

These buds open to form a huge flower that looks a lot like a starfish.  You might wonder about the name, and don't worry, I'm going to tell you.  This plant is called "Carrion Plant" because of the pungent smell that attracts flies to pollinate the blooms.  I came across this plant blooming at the Myriad Gardens last weekend as I was weeding.  I had actually walked by the plant about 10 times before I noticed it.  Thankfully I had to weed on the ground where the bloom happened to be laying or I would have never noticed.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Stapelia gigantea bloom"]Stapelia gigantea bloom[/caption]

I was surprised to find that the strong smell I heard about was very localized.  It was only apparent when I put my nose very close to the bloom (within an inch of the center).  I imagine there is probably a point in the life of the bloom where the smell is more prevalent, in order to lure in flies that happen to be flying more than an inch away from the bloom.  Either that or flies have much better noses than I do. :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Winter weather and hardiness zones

We have received more than our normal share of winter precipitation this year.  I have spent my whole life in the same town, and I don't really recall having more than 1 decent snow storm each winter.  This winter, we received a pretty good snowfall on Christmas Eve, measuring 8 inches in the middle of our front yard (away from any drifts).

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Christmas Eve blizzard"]Christmas Eve blizzard[/caption]

Then we received an ice storm followed by 6 inches of snow last week.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Very thick icicle hanging from my greenhouse this week"]Very thick icicle hanging from my greenhouse this week[/caption]

In between those two snow storms our temperatures dipped down below 10 degrees Fahrenheit on three consecutive nights (6F, 6F, 8F).  We're not really used to these temperatures, but I was thinking about our USDA hardiness zone.  I am located in zone 7a, which is rated for winter temperatures between 0 and 5 F.  This is one of those winters that makes our hardiness zone rating seem appropriate.  I would say that in the average winter, our minimum temperature is probably somewhere around 15 degrees F, but the USDA zones aren't set up by average minimum temperatures.  You don't want to plant a tree and expect it to survive in your zone only in the years that are above average.  You want it to survive 50 years or more.  So the USDA zones are set up by using long-term historical climatic minimum temperatures.

I discussed in a previous post how the hardiness zones only tell a small part of the story, but I would like to mention that again here.  The hardiness zones only tell you whether a plant can brave your winter minimum temperatures, not whether they will be happy with your amount of moisture or sunlight or long, hot summer days.  Some efforts have been made to construct other zone maps for variables like humidity and heat index.  Once these maps have been constructed and distributed to plant people, nurseries will need to start to label their plants, in order for them to be useful.  I know that there are a number of plants which can survive our winters, but would not like our heat waves when the temperatures can be above 100 degrees F for a week solid in the middle of the summer.

Hopefully these new maps will be circulated soon and start getting used.  It might seem like a lot of numbers to keep up with, but I can envision a 3 map system, where you just always remember you are a "7-5-8" or something like that.  If the order is kept the same (cold hardiness, heat index, humidity), it will make this new system user friendly and could help a lot of new gardeners.