Tag Archives: plants

Colocasia gigantea “Thailand Giant”

The first year (2012)
IMG_1629_edited
The second year (2103) with weekly fertilizer

It was love at first sight when I first saw this plant. Living in Indiana, I love to have that tropical feel in my backyard during the summer. I bought this plant online and planted it in a pot after the threat of frost was past. It was a beautiful addition to my patio.

Keep in mind that in its native habitat, it reaches heights of 9 feet or more. My plant, however, only reached a height of maybe 3 feet.  The leaves were truly gorgeous though. You can see plant in the above picture, which is directly behind the standing woman (me!).  I’m confident that with a longer growing season plus more fertilizer would have made this plant grow exponentially more than it did. I will be experimenting with that next summer.

Overwintering
With its native habitat being Thailand, it prefers zones 8-11. This is important information when considering your overwintering needs. After some research, I learned that not all species of the Colocasia genus are quick to grow corms. And this happens to be one of those. For my growing zone, this particular plant should be brought indoors during the winter and placed in a cool location (45-60°F) with bright light, being careful not to overwater as this plant will be semi-dormant. I have chosen to overwinter this plant in my garage under a grow light.

Harvesting the Seed
As Autumn approached, the plant produced several inflorescences, I wanted to try my hand at propagating it. Inflorescences are essentially the complete flower head, shown in the picture below, consisting of the spathe and the spadix.  The spathe is the white thin bract that surrounds and protects the spadix.  While the spadix is the spiked center portion, which contains the male and female portion.
Pollination occurs when the male portion of the spadix produces a powdery-like build-up of pollen. In nature, the pollen can be transported with the help of insects. Hand pollination can be achieved too, especially if your plant is contained indoors.
Individual seed pods are located towards the bottom of the spadix, which is the female portion (see picture).   Each seed pod will be about the size of a pea when ready for harvest and the individual pods are full of seed. An entire seed head may have up to 100 or so individual seed pods. So, there is a potential for thousands of seeds!

Seeds shown settling to the bottom of the bag

When is the seed ready?
You will want to wait until the white portion of spathe actually falls from the plant. The seed will develop in the lower (female) portion of the flower. After 3-4 weeks, cut the flower completely off at the base of the female portion. You can then peel that surrounding green portion that is around the female part and you should see the swollen seed pods containing seed.  Take the entire seed pod, soak it in a Ziploc-style baggy with 1/3 water and all the air pressed out. Let the seed pod soak for a couple of hours to soften. Once soft, massage the entire seed head and you should be able to see the tiny seed. Try to get the seed to sink to the bottom of the bag (see image below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Alternate Method
Now I’ve also read where if the spadix is left alone, the female portion of the spadix will eventually rupture open full of seed.  From there, the seeds can be extracted.  I have yet to try this technique.  However, I have successfully extracted seeds with the prior technique.  I then dried the seeds and will propagate in the Spring.

Anyone have any thoughts or experience to share?  Please feel free to share your knowledge.

New Plant Hardiness Zone Map Reveals Warming Trend

 

 

The USDA released their new version of the Plant Hardness Zone Map in January 2012. The new map is generally one 5- degree Fahrenheit half-zone warmer than the previous released map back in 1990. This mostly is a result of using temperature data from a longer and more recent time period. More specifically, it uses data measured at weather stations during a 30-year period from 1976-2005. The 1990 map used data from a 13-year period of 1974-1986.
Another change with the new map is the addition of an interactive “find your zone by ZIP code” function. Click here to see the new USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

What’s Consuming Oxygen in Your Pond?

After reading a great article titled “Oxygen in Ponds” by Ben Helm of www.watergardenersbible.co.uk, I wanted to share some of the highlights which will encompass several posts.

The ecosystem that is home to our prized koi and other fish has some requirements to keep it balanced.  One such requirement is the Dissolved Oxygen Concentration (DOC).  DOC refers to the amount of oxygen that is dissolved in the pond water, which measures how much oxygen (by weight – mg) is dissolved in every liter of water.

There are many occupants of a pond that affect and rely on the DOC in a pond.  Let’s look at a few of them.

Koi

At a macro level, koi aren’t the biggest consumers of oxygen in the pond (but this will vary with stocking density).  And compared to other species of fish, koi are quite tolerant of lower levels of DOC requiring 6 mg per liter.  A trout, however, prefers a higher DOC level of around 12mg/l.

Koi absorb roughly 80% of their oxygen through their gills with the remainder consumed in their lungs.

Bacteria/Fungi

The majority of bacteria found in ponds (usually found in the filter) require oxygen; thereby we classify them as aerobic bacteria.  Their DOC consumption varies depending water temperature and food content in the pond water.

With the warmer weather brings active fish.  Ammonia levels will be on the rise once fish begin to eat, thus requiring bacteria to become more active to consume and convert ammonia to nitrites, then to nitrates.  This increased bacterial activity will result in more oxygen consumption as well.

Invertebrates

The more mature of filter becomes will bring a greater diversity of colonized invertebrate life.  Likewise, these critters will require the use of oxygen as they help to consume the organic matter in the pond.

Plants

From microscopic to larger forms, plants consume oxygen just like all the other life forms in the pond.  Plants can also add their excess oxygen, over and above what they need, back into the pond during the day.

In our next post, we’ll look at what factors can cause your DOC to drop.

 

 

GreenScaping Part 4: Adopt a Holistic Approach to Pest Management

Just  a recap in the Series of GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard

 

Continuous pest problems in your yard are often a sign that your yard is lacking a requirement needed to keep itself healthy.  While pesticides used for pest, weeds and bug killers can be effective means of control, correcting the underlying problem is the best remedy.  A holistic or integrated pest management approach is the most effective way to manage pests.

Start with Prevention

  • Maintain healthy soil with the use of compost and mulch
  • Select pest-resistant plants and place in their desired location (sun, shade and soil conditions, etc.)
  • Diversify your plant selection so if there is a pest infestation, your entire garden won’t be compromised.
  • Mow higher.  It’s recommended to mow as high as 2 – 3 inches.  This promotes deep root growth and thicker leaf surface, which helps to choke out weeds.
  • Remove and destroy diseased plants immediately.
  • Pull weeds before they go to seed.
  • Remove dead plants so pests have less hiding places.

Identify the Problem before Acting

It’s hard to effectively manage a problem without knowing the cause.  So identify the bug, disease, weed, etc. and determine the best action from there.  Remember many bugs are beneficial!  Monitor your area for pests but don’t spray immediately.  Nature may be able to control it for you.

Using an integrated approach may solve the problem if a weed or pest problem develops.  Try some of the following suggestions:

  • Instead of pesticide, use some “elbow grease” by pulling out dandelions with long-handled weed pullers.
  • Mulching, as stressed many times throughout this series, reduces weeds in your garden beds.
  • Crop rotation techniques help to minimize plant’s susceptibility to pests and diseases.

 

GreenScaping Part 3: Practice Smart Watering

Just  a recap in the Series of GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard

 

Water Deeply, But Infrequently

Most plants do best when their roots are allowed to dry out between watering.  Learn the signs of when its time to water.  For example, your lawn is in need of watering when footprints remain after you walk across it.  Vegetables and other annuals will show signs of wilting, but other established perennials will only need watering if they remain wilted after the evening cool-off.  Trees and shrubs, once established, won’t need watering unless for extreme cases of drought.

Make Every Drop Count

Having a healthy and beautiful lawn and plants doesn’t have to jack up your water bill.  Consider some of these water saving activities:

  • Help retain moisture and reduce evaporation in your soil by adding compost and by mulching.
  • Select low-water-use plants.  Once established, they thrive exclusively on rainfall.
  • Soaker hoses and drip irrigation on beds are huge water savers.  They save as much as 50 percent compared to sprinklers.
  • Incorporate a water timer.  This will assure the correct amount of water and the appropriate time of day for watering.
  • Water in the early morning.  Watering mid-day actually allows for evaporation and evening watering allows for mold and other plant diseases.
  • Water lawns separately from other plantings.  Ensure the sprinklers are properly aimed and aren’t watering the pavement.

Let the Rain Soak In

Utilize your rain.  If not used, the rain flows from roofs, pavement and compacted soil.  It eventually will cause flooding downstream, which in turn, causes erosion and pollution after picking up pollutants along the way.

  • Direct downspouts to your yard, or into rain barrels or rain gardens.
  • The use of compost and mulch can help retain this rain and help prevent erosion.
  • Use open pavers or gravel instead of pavement to allow rain to seep into the soil.

 

GreenScaping Part 2: Plant Right for Your Site

A few days ago, I introduced the series Greenscaping and discussed step 1 of 5, which was titled, “Building and Maintaining Healthy Soil”.  Greenscaping, in essence, is a set of landscaping practices that can improve the health and appearance of your lawn and garden while protecting and preserving natural resources.  Today brings step 2 in this series.

Step 2: Plant Right for Your Site

Know your yard so you’ll know what plants can go where.  What spots are sunny, shady?  What is the pH of your soil? What type of soil do you have (e.g. sandy, clay)?  All of these questions will help determine what plants can go where.  Also, determine the location of plants, play areas, privacy, etc.

Choose the Right Plant for the Right Place

Based on the questions you answered above, select plants that do well in those conditions.   Choosing native plants is equally as important because they have evolved with this environment over many years.  Always envision the mature height and width of any plant before placement, especially near your house, driveway and power lines.

Choose Plants That Resist Pests

Some plants are more pest- and disease-resistant than others.  Always research your potential plants before planting.  This can save you time and money on pest control.

Give Plants a Good Start

Incorporate one to three inch layer of compost into your planting beds before planting.  Follow instructions on proper planting instructions.  A good layer of mulch atop your newly plantings, along with consistent water the first few years will help to build the deep roots that are desired.

Make Space for Wildlife

Invite birds, butterflies and other wildlife into your yard, protect streams and fish and make a more attractive yard.  Some ideas include:

  • Plant native plants.  Consider varieties with berries, fruits and flowers.
  • Plant in layers (e.g. ground cover, shrubs and trees) to mimic the forest.
  • Don’t plant invasive plant species.  Check with your local Cooperative Extension Office for a list of invasive “noxious weeds”.
  • Use pesticides only when necessary to minimize harm to birds, beneficial insects and fish.  Always follow the label directions when using.
  • Provide a bird bath or similar water source.  Make sure to change the water frequently to avoid a mosquito breeding ground.
  • Leave wild “buffer” areas of native plants along ravines, streams and fencelines.

Learn more about attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.

GreenScaping Part 1: Building and Maintaining Healthy Soil

GreenScaping, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, is landscaping practices that promote the health and appearance of your lawn and garden while protecting and preserving natural resources.  A great article by the EPA titled, “GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard”, will be summarized here and will encompass five posts due to the length of the article.

By practicing these activities, you can:

  • Save money by eliminating unnecessary water and chemical usage
  • Save time by landscaping with plants that require less care
  • Protect the environment by conserving water and by using chemicals responsibly so they don’t contaminate our waterways and drinking water sources.

How can this all be possible?  Working with nature in five steps, the first post of this series will focus on:

Step 1: Build and Maintain Healthy Soil

In nature, soil recycles dead plants into nutrients used for new plant growth.  This circle of life helps to maintain the approximately 4 billion organisms found in a teaspoon of healthy soil!  These beneficial organisms help create a loose soil structure which allows for proper air and water circulation, as well as, aide in proper plant root growth.  Other good deeds include: the storing of water until plants need it and protecting plants from pests and diseases.

Soil Test

A good starting point towards achieving healthy soil is a soil test.  A soil test will give you a good baseline on determining the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and lime your soil contains or possibly needs.  Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for more details.

Compost

Compost is a critical part of healthy soil.  It helps to feed the beneficial soil life so that it can, in turn, feed and protect the plants.  It also retains nutrients and water for sandy soils and helps to loosens clay soils.  Every spring and fall is an ideal time to add between a quarter to half-inch of compost to your existing lawns or beds.

Mulch

Mulch is a layer of organic material, such as leaves, aged wood chips, or grass clippings.  Mulch helps to stabilize the soil temperature, prevents weeds, and retains moisture.  Spring and fall is an ideal time to assure mulch levels are adequate (no more than 3 inches).

Slow-Release or Organic Fertilizer

If needed, look for fertilizers that contain “natural organic” or “slow-release” ingredients.  These will fertilize plants slowly and evenly and allow for strong root systems.  “Slow-release” types will help to reduce nutrient run-off into the ground and surface waters.

Remember, healthy plants grow in healthy soil!

 

Next in the series:  GreenScaping Part 2: Plant Right for Your Site

March Garden Calendar

 

As I’ve stated many times, The Department of Horticulture at Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service has tons of a great publications.  The particular one that I want to share a portion of with you today is Spring Garden Calendar (HO-91-W).  This article outlines some monthly Spring activities that will help make our indoor and outdoor plants and lawns to be more ready for summer.  It is time to start preparing for Spring!

Indoor Plants & Activities

  • Apply fertilizer to houseplants according to the label directions.   As the days grow brighter and longer, the new foliage growths will require a high-nitrogen fertilizer; while blooming plants will require a higher amount of phosphorus.
  • Remove spent leaves and flowers regularly to improve appearance and encourage blooming.
  • Start seeds of cool season plants for transplanting outdoors later in spring.  Check your local zone requirements.

Woody Landscape Plants & Fruit Trees

  • Prune trees and shrubs while plants are still dormant.  The spring bloomers should be pruned after the flower fades.
  • Fertilize woody plants before new growth begins and after the soil temperatures have reached 40°F.  Two pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet should be broadcast over the entire root area.
  • Remove winter coverings from roses as soon as new growth begins.  Keep mulch close for protection from late freezes.  Prune and fertilize as needed.
  • Apply superior oil spray to control scale insects and mites on landscape plants and fruit trees when tips of leaves start to protrude from buds.
  • Remove tree wrap from trunks to prevent scalding due to overheating of the bark.

Lawn

  • Rake to remove leaves, twigs and other debris.
  • Mow lawn as needed.  The first mowing should be slightly lower than normal to encourage green-up.

Flowers

  • Prepare garden soil for planting.  Do not work the soil while it is wet.  Soil should crumble when squeezed in your hand when it is ready to work.  If it forms a solid ball when squeezed, it’s still too wet.
  • Fertilize soil as needed.   If you’ve had a recent soil test, that will help you determine your fertilization and pH needs.
  • Start seeds of warm season vegetables and flowers indoors.
  • Watch for blooms of early spring bulbs such as daffodils, squill, crocus, dwarf iris and snowdrops.
  • Remove old asparagus and rhubarb tops, and then side dress with nitrogen or manure.

More great articles can be viewed on Purdue University’s Extension website.

National Garden Bureau Showcases New Varieties for 2011

The NGB, National Garden Bureau, (www.ngb.org) features images and descriptions for more than 100 different new annuals, perennials and vegetables for 2011.  Each year representatives of the professional horticulture industry choose crops based on popularity, ease of growth, adaptability and versatility.

This site is a wealth of information.  It’s sure to get you excited for spring planting!

Terrariums

Bromeliads work great in a terrarium environment

A terrarium is essentially a garden in an enclosed glass container that provides adequate humidity preferred by tender tropical plants.  It can also be used to start new plants or freshly cut un-rooted plants.  While many of you have probably seen a prepackaged terrarium kit that provides all the materials needed to make your own “garden under glass”, you can assembly your own with some items you may already have around your home.

Container

Almost any clear glass container with a lid can be used for your terrarium.  Cloudy or colored glass is not recommended because it filters out too much light, while non-lidded containers wouldn’t provide the humidity and moisture needed.  If the container doesn’t have a lid, clear plastic wrap and a rubber band or cellophane tape will work.

Keep the scale of the relative to the container size.  For example, small evergreens or deciduous tree seedlings can be grown in larger containers such as aquariums, while smaller plants could be grown in a fish bowl, goblet, etc.

Soil and Drainage

The ideal soil mixture is one part of each: sand, peat moss and loam.  Ordinary garden soils are considered too heavy for plants to grow well in this environment.  One teaspoon of 5-10-5 fertilizer should be added to a six-inch potful of soil mixture.

Drainage should be employed using a layer of moss.  For larger containers, a layer of sand or gravel is recommended before adding the moss.

Planting and Care

  1. Cover the bottom of the container with 1-3 inches of gravel or sand.
  2. Place a fine layer of sheet moss over the drainage material.
  3. Place the soil mixture over the moss.  Just enough soil is needed to hold the plants in place.  Roots do not need to be completely covered as the humidity will keep the roots from drying out.
  4. After planting, wet the soil with a fine mist.  Water only until it seeps through the moss layer.  Do not allow water to stand in the bottom of the terrarium.  If this happens, remove the cover for several hours a day until the excess water evaporates.
  5. Water only when the soil surface becomes dry and add only enough water to moisten the soil.  The condensation from the terrarium will drip back down onto the plant helping to keep it moist.
  6. Place your completed terrarium in a well lit location, out of direct sunlight.
  7. Pinch back plants that become overcrowded or too tall.
  8. An annual re-design will be needed.  At this time, replace mosses and reuse plants if possible or employ new for a fresh look.

Plants

Below is a list of recommended plants that will adapt well in a terrarium environment.  Keep in mind that because of the moist environment, un-rooted cuttings can be used, as they will eventually form roots.

Source: Purdue University Cooperative Extension