Cuban Gardens

Cuban gardens were a new subject for me until I recently traded in our cold Canadian weather for a week of hot Cuban “winter” weather and a plant tour that reminded me of my indoor plants back home in Canada.

Cuban Resort garden

Cuban Resort garden

Not only were the blooms and foliage amazing, but the air itself is full of a scent that is indescribable. While unable to pinpoint any specific scent, upon closer examination  of Cuban gardens, I was able to identify many plants as those “tropicals”,  for sale in garden centres and greenhouses here in Ontario.

Schefflera

This four story plant is one of many Schefflera actinophylla (umbrella tree) plants growing around our resort and seen all over the island. Schefflera actinophylla (umbrella tree). The genus is fast growing in tropical and subtropical areas to the extent it is classified as a weed in these areas. With idea conditions here in Cuba, the actinophylla species has  long, shiny, oval green leaves that droop gracefully from a central stalk and  also produces long red tentacle blooms.

 

Schefflera flower

 

Here in Ontario Canada and other colder climates, where our cold winters prevent idea growth, we grow Schefflera arboricola (sometimes called dwarf schefflera)  which has much smaller leaves, sometimes with creamy variegation and generally doesn’t get the right conditions for blooming. Under ideal conditions it produces creamy coloured berries.

Schefflera_arboricola_

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Amaryllis Blooms and beyond

Amaryllis blooms are spectacular no matter the colour and with a minimum of care, will bloom over Christmas and throughout the winter months. Native to tropical and sub-tropical locations, this bulbous plant is not winter hearty here, but provides us a much needed indoor blast of colour in the coldness of winter.

 

amazing Hippeastrum (amaryllis)

amazing Hippeastrum (amaryllis)

 

 

Garden centres sell the widest variety of bulbs, which they generally sell loose for your planting pleasure. Potted bulbs beginning  their rapid leaf growth are also found in garden centres, and a wide variety of other locations including grocery and big box hardware stores. While many people are familiar with this plant, the background, cultivation and care information is something not be commonly known.

Amaryllis Genealogy

Amaryllis is the common name used for the herbaceous , perennial flowering plants of the Amaryllidaceae family. The actual genus Amaryllis bulbs come from South Africa , while the genus Hippeastrum bulbs from South and Central America are what are commonly sold here in the Northern Hemisphere around Christmas time.

Amaryllis  of the genus Hippeastrum have a wide variety of colours, both solid and in combination as there are approximately 90 species and 600 hybrid varieties. These herbaceous bulbs begin by sending out 2-7 narrow, flat long strap-shaped, green  leaves and from there if conditions are right, the flower stem begins to grow.

 Amaryllis Bloom Kits

Amaryllis bulbs are sold, as previously mentioned, loosely in most garden centres as well as in kits. The bulbs when found in grocery store , or big box store floral sections,  are generally in a kit either already growing or with all the necessary ingredients to start your own  plant.

Kits include a large tuberous bulb, a plastic or ceramic pot as well as growing medium. I purchased several kits, one of which had coconut fibre pellet that had specific volumes of warm water needed to get the right texture for planting in its drab green plastic pot. However, I have learned form many sources that this fibre can remove nutrients from the plant itself so I chose to use a soil-less, potting soil, coconut fibre mix instead. The other kit had a bag of slightly moistened soil-less mix, that I add some of the leftover fibre to, as an additional means to help with water retention in the lovely white ceramic pot.

Growing requirements

Amaryllis bulbs should be planted in the centre of a pot only  about 1 in larger in diameter than the bulb. One kit I purchased had a poor quality pot that was far too large, and so a more suitable size was used instead. Approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of the bulb should be above the planting medium, which should be firmly packed before watering. Water well and find it a good spot to begin growing.

Amaryllis bulbs love warm sunny spots, and prefer to out of drafts. My collection sits in my front window which faces south west and primary gets sun from late morning until about 5 in the evening. After that time, I pull the tray back form the window, to allow the blinds to go down and to keep the plants away from the cold that radiates in through the glass.

my new white Amaryllis

my new white Amaryllis

Feeding

Water lightly at first, until the stems begin to grow when watering increases and fertilizing is needed for strong plants and beautiful Amaryllis blooms. At this point  the use of high Phosphorous fertilizer is important. Phosphorous is the middle number on household plant fertilizers and is the most important for healthy full blooms. The nitrogen and Potassium, which make up the first and last of the NPK components of fertilizer, help the plant grow strong roots and ensure  good overall health. You could use  a 5-10-5 or 11-35-15 fertilizer or whatever you have with the higher middle number.In addition, as Amaryllis are hearty feeders, watering in the fertilizer every second or third week while they are in bloom,  ensures longevity!

Salmon coloured amaryllis

Salmon coloured amaryllis

 

Once the flower begins to open, experts suggest the plant then be moved out of direct sunlight to ensure the  blooms last longer. By removing some of the light, the metabolism of the flower/seed formation would  decrease and allow for maximum enjoyment.

Gardening Vacation in Nova Scotia

A gardening vacation in Nova Scotia is not just time to explore a new place , but is a time to get away  and enjoy the gardens of others while  taking some time away from our own gardens. By travelling to other parts of any country you can enjoy the colours and scents of many beautiful gardens. These joys may also remind us of things about our gardens they we have stopped appreciating there.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

This August after months of  …weeding, watering, weeding and more watering, I decided to take a break and head East. With a chance to see and experience new places and leave chores and all manner of work behind, vacations are always a treat! Besides, with my garden in the capable hands of a family member and a waning appreciation for it, I needed a new perspective.

Years ago my trips to the East coast had led me to many lovely  places and to a wonderful hospitality but I had not specifically been focused on gardens, so I decided to take it all in this trip. With camera in hand, this it was to be a gardening vacationing in Nova Scotia, in search of  gardens as well as the shoreline and all of nature’s beauty.

 

ocean view from Nova Scotia

ocean view from Nova Scotia

 

My Nova scotia visits previously had been restricted to Halifax , where I had seen pretty gardens on the grounds of the Citadel and along the waterfront there and across the bay at Dartmouth. The grounds of many a park there had well manicured brightly coloured flower beds, so I knew the provinces gardeners were hard at work in big cities.

Dartmouth planter

Dartmouth planter

Having spent little time elsewhere in Nova Scotia, this trip was a chance to explore two of my favourite things…beaches and gardens. Having a coastline on both the Bay of Fundy and extensively on the Atlantic Ocean, I knew the shoreline visits wouldn’t disappoint me.

Not until I took my eyes off the waves and the sand did I notice there were even blooms on the beach.

 

lovely beach flowerBeach flower

 

 

 

 

 

Then the gardening vacation of Nova Scotia took full stride. Every harbour, Inn and most houses had lovely gardens everywhere. They used Lupines, marigold, begonias and salvia just like in our gardens. There were window boxes, front gardens and every kind of container imaginable.

P1010340P1030655original planter

 

 

 

 

There were blooms around lighthouses, planted by multitudes of gardeners! I saw ferns and wrought iron works and gazebos that reminded me of my own garden and made me smile. In fact, there were more blue Hydrangeas there that I have even seen here!

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Gardening in Nova Scotia

 

Blue Hydrangea in  a Shelburne N.S garden

Blue Hydrangea in a Shelburne N.S garden

 

Blue Hydrangea

Blue Hydrangea

 

Summing up my garden vacation to the province of Nova Scotia… I would say it was a multi-coloured masterpiece, full of bright and blooming annuals and perennials. The beaches were fascinating , the people warm and the trip was a great vacation in every way. I went home rested, with a new perspective on life, work and gardening.

Memorial garden Digby

Memorial garden Digby

main street Digby NS

main street Digby NS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consider your garden from a different view by enjoying the sights, memories, garden hints and photographs of gardens far from home. I would highly recommend next summer you take your own garden vacation of Nova Scotia, explore the province and appreciate its beauty and biodiversity and be inspired!

 

Cape Forchu Lighthouse and garden

Cape Forchu Lighthouse and garden

Summer Blooms

Summer blooms need lots of tender loving care to ensure they are always producing new buds. Certainly as we are in mid July, by now most gardeners have worn out their green thumbs by planting and relocating countless perennials and annuals.Not to be forgotten are the countless seasonal flower sales that often drive gardeners in to a last minute frenzy as the temptation to have just one more summer bloom takes over.

Lily

 

 

Garden Sale points:

1. is there a spot in my garden for it

2. is the plant in good enough shape to survive the transplanting

3. is the price really a “sale”

4.  do I need it.

Certainly summer blooms are tempting, but unless a lovely perennial seems just what you need to fill one last spot in the garden, walk on by. If the plant is sadly not at its best due to bad watering or crunched foliage, is it beyond saving? If the overall plant core seems healthy, and the briken or damaged leaves can easily be removed, then a sale plant certainly deserves to be a someone’s garden.

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If you just can’t stop staring at the plant, just buy it! Certainly an extra plant or two can be squeezed in somewhere and the cost most likely will not break the bank. Of course one last thing is the price vs the condition of that plant or shrub. A local garden centre near me recently had it’s 30% sale but as their prices run much higher than anywhere else, the sale wasn’t really great but they did have  a larger variety of plants. If the plant is really sad, but you need it, there is no harm in asking if they will take less, especially as the peak planting season is almost past.

Remember if you will be away on vacation or at the cottage, those plants will need a sitter to keep the summer’s heat from killing your lovely summer blooms. Even apartment dwellers with window boxes and veggies growing in all manner of containers, will need close care in the heat of the summer.

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Giant Coleus in Planter Box

 

Summer bloom care list

To ensure you have good blooms all summer remember to follow the basic list

1. good water

Most plants need to be kept from drying out too much so a good water twice a week should eb fine. Daily watering, whether it be the lawn or garden, keeps the plants roots closer to the soil surface and then a severe drought or a forgotten trip can cause the plant to dry up and die quite quicky due to no deep root formation.

2. fertilizing

Regular fertilixzing with organic ferilizers ( preferred) or the slow release type provide basic nutrients ensuring a hartier, healthier plant with showier bloom. Keep in main theat by the end of July and definitely in to August, most applications run the risk of  burning the plant out as its metabolism increases at a time when both the temperature and water condtions are not optimal.

3. deadheading

Deadheading of some plants such as petunias are well known, all plants benefite form thei, as then their energy can be put in to growing , not seed production. Once a bloom is past it’s prime, snip it off . Removing the dying bloom also makes the plant look tidier and obviously well cared for.

4. pest control

Especially in summer’s high heat days, all manner of garden pest seek, food, and shade. They also need the plants sap as a good source of water. On lily plants. removing the dark “poo” like substances on the leaves, removes the beginnings of the lily beetle that loves to consume the leaves . If the bugs are larger, wearing garden gloves, carefully remove them. If they return or you have small bugs such as aphids,  try straying on a mixture of warm water containing some dish soap, small amount of cooking oil and if that doesn’t keep  work, there are slightly more concentrated organic soap solutions that can be bought at more garden centres and greenhouses.

Milkweed and pests

Milkweed and pests

 

 

5. weeding

Weeding not only ensures a tidy garden it also removes the roots of those unwanted plants that would compete with those of the plants you choose to keep. Most weeds and wildflowers have a great tap root or wide root base that ensure they survive in nature to return each year.

 

Of course as you admire your garden you may already be planning changes for new year or just sitting like moss…a bump on a log.

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  For those you of you more adventurous…maybe seeing wildflowers for the water…kayaking across the country…may inspire you to as we live in a wondrous place…enjoy!

 

EARTH, WATER, SKY

EARTH, WATER, SKY

Tune in next month for further information and glorious photos of summer blooms in Nova Scotia

Wildflowers in spring

Wildflowers in spring are found blooming everywhere just as our home gardens are trying to adapt to change. Woodlands are full of new shoots struggling to find the sun, petals and buds forming and finally many blooms open and share their glorious colour. In fact, in the cooler days of May, as my seedlings are adapting in the sun porch  the meadows and woodlands of Mother Nature are full of growth and blooms galore!

 

Trillium and poison Ivy

 

As we gradually condition our seedlings to the changes in temperature and light etc, nature has a communication system we are not directly connected to. Certainly when cooler weather hits, the seedlings in nature are already adapted somehow, as if by unspoken communication. Seldom do we see dandelions wither if a colder snap hits at night.

 

happy Dandelion

 

In fact, after centuries of adaptation, even wildflowers that return each year from seed propagation seem to be adapted in ways commercially sold seeds seldom do. Certainly the pampered conditions we give them to promote optimal growth in some way baby’s them, but  with the exception of some heartier seeds and ones that need cold to begin growth, commercial seeds seem to be less hardy.

Whether you are in warmer climates where your new plants are blooming and adapting well, or in cooler areas still waiting for warmer weather, a walk in the wild certainly  shows that wildflowers in spring are an array of amazing plants!

 

Unfurling Fron

 

With the arrival of new plants comes the fungal world as well. One such specimen was growing in plain sight, as if its brain like appearance was waving at me to take notice. In fact, it lead me to one of my previous posts from Oct 15/12 entitled Plant Family Classification. I was then reminded that Fungi is one of 5 Kingdoms that all living things are classified in to. Further investigation led me to a book called Mushrooms of Eastern Canada where I determined the odd living thing was a Yellow Morel.

Yellow Morel

Yellow Morel

 

Springtime in the woods certainly contains lots of other yellow, especially Dandelions ! Despite a dry spring this year, the Dandelion blooms were almost 2 4 cm or 1.5 inches across and the plants were several shoe lengths tall.

 

Dandelion face

 

 

bobbing Dandeions

 

Everywhere I looked they bobbed in the wind and new buds were forming. In fact, they begin their life cycle so early in the spring that many Dandelions had gone to seed stage, just awaiting the wind to carry those seeds.

 

Dandelion ...Wishes

Dandelion …Wishes

 

The woods held many plants I have yet to learn about as shown below. There are single spikey yellow blooms, shrubs with multiple white blooms and more.

 

Mysterious Wildflower     Multiple budded shrub

 

Plants were also discovered along wetland areas and one I had the joy to discover was the Jack-in-the -Pulpit. Hiding in the shadier areas along streams and riverbanks, this stately bloom is wonderful despite the rather sedate colouring.

 

Jack in the Pulpit

Jack in the Pulpit

 

Perhaps one of the loveliest wildflowers in spring , found in forest across Canada,are those of the lovely Trillium. Of course many people recognize the white Trillium as Ontario’s official flower emblem, but the smaller Red Trillium flowers are still lovely to discover.

 

Trillium Ontario's Flower Emblem

Trillium Ontario’s Flower Emblem

 

 

Red Trillium

Red Trillium

 

One such discovery I made gave me several surprises. First, while I was busy photographing a patch below some tall trees, I  had not noticed the plants were happily growing in a large spread of Poison Ivy!

 

Trillium and Poison Ivy

 

Then I thought I had discovered a mutant pink Trillium only to find out later that white blooms turn pinkish -purple when they are close to dying. This would explain the mixture of colours seen in the patch. What a treat to discover!

Thankfully the Poison Ivy did not contact my skin so no oils were transferred and no rashes appeared. Of course springtime in the woods does include Poison Ivy and other toxic and dangerous plants. Further discoveries of the roots were found weaving through the undergrowth as well as high over head in Pine trees.

Poison Ivy unfurling in a Pine tree

Poison Ivy unfurling in a Pine tree

 

Despite the toxic nature of many plants, they do exist and sometimes even are a sight to behold…whether their colour, shade, tenacity or other characteristics fascinate us, wildflowers in the spring are never disappointing and always reminds us of the awe inspiring   universe around us!

 

ben and stuff 368

 

 

 

Seed planting in Spring and caring for sprouts

 Seed Planting in Spring

Seed planting in spring and caring for the sprouting seedlings are always popular pastimes and certainly April is one month that has Northern Hemisphere gardeners chomping at the bit.

 plant stuff and office 015plant stuff and office 042

 

 

 

 

Whether you had carefully scrutinized seed catalogues for your purchases or chosen them from the countless seed displays in local stores, you will have noticed the huge variety of seeds available!  Perhaps you collected seeds collected from last season’s garden, just as those in the Southern Hemisphere may be doing now as their gardens go dormant as colder weather approaches.

While many seedlings require different germination needs as previously written on this site, no matter  whether gardeners are working in large gardening centres or toiling over their grow lights and window sills, they are all hopeful those conditions have been met.

-_Seedling_-001

 Despite the complex process a seed goes through before the first sprout appears, from large global gardens such as Viceroy’s Palace Garden in India and Tsarskoe Selo Russia, through to massive garden shows like Canada Blooms to our small but priceless gardens, each carefully planted seed carries with it the hope and perspiration of many hands.

Now that seeds are under the lights, or on a sunny window ledge the tricky part begins. Keeping a few simple points in mind should ensure the sprouts you watch daily, will grow tall and healthy awaiting their new home in your garden or planters.

 

plant stuff and office 053

 

POST GERMINATION CARE

While the information on temperature, light and moisture levels seem pretty straightforward, to novice gardens especially, these both require careful monitoring. In addition, fertilizing is important in the right strength, to help ensure healthy hearty plants come from your seed planting in spring.

 

Temperature

If possible, providing a source of gentle warming from beneath is a valuable tool, enabling most seeds to germinate faster as it mimics the warm soil of your garden or planter. Certainly the top of refrigerators were once the site of many seed tray and seedlings, the newer model appliances give off very little heat. However, if they allow good sunlight, this would still be a good location for both new seeds and struggling seedlings.

The temperature requirements of most seeds are on the packages, but generally whether purchased or collected; seeds and seedlings both have minimum temperatures for good growth. Generally this is approximately 65 º F or 18 º C but above 68 º or 20 º is better. In addition, the optimal temperature is one if many pieces of information on the seed packages.

Heated seed tray starting kits are a big help as the try comes with a heating pad designed to warm the seeds from the bottom at an even temperature. Unfortunately on the one I purchased the actual temperature was not listed but the seeds sprout much faster than the comparable one in the small trays beside it.

 

plant stuff and office 028

 

If you live in an older home heated by radiators, covered in a non combustible material, trays could be placed there for warmth but monitor the area regularly so they are not baked instead.

There are several problems that can arise if the temperature needs of the sprouting seedlings are not met. The first problem with lower temperatures is the metabolism of the seed/seedling is slower. In addition, the cooler temperatures combined with generally high moisture levels are good breeding grounds for fungus which may result in the disease or condition know horticultural as damping off.

Lighting

Seeds generally require a good source of light and in fact, some require so much to germinate that the packages suggest little to no coverage of the seeds. In addition, some plants do not grow well if planted early indoors and transplanted. I have had little success transplanting sunflowers and in fact, the package instructions say just to plant in the garden after danger of frost is past. While the root systems may not support the transfer, more often than not the plant’s metabolism requires a high level of natural sunlight, hence straggly plants even when under grow lights.

If you do not have a sunny, no draft location for your seed trays, pots, pellets or whatever you planted in to, perhaps grow lights are for you.  There are many locations from larger big box stores and most most large garden centres  that sell tiered, fluorescent lit plant stands. Another good source to check out are garage sales, or on line used items sites as new tiered light stands are generally quite costly.

 

plant stuff and office 022

 

With the availability of new natural daylight frequency bulbs, often even a desk lamp or shop lighting arrangement can be used for seed planting in spring and  to give seedlings the light boost they need until they can be transitioned to outside areas. Of course there are many home made lighting set ups people have come up with, including adding foil around a light source to keep stray light at a minimum. In addition the increased warmth from the lights also helps with maintaining a good even temperature in the growing area.

To ensure good even lighting, start off with the grow lights approximately 6 inches or 15 cm from the seedlings and raise them as the sprouts grow. If the lights are too high above the greenery, the plants will grow taller and spindly as they try for more lights. In addition the lights should be on 16-18 hours a day to ensure the growth of sturdy  not tall thin plants.  Good, adequate lighting  promotes good leaf formation and strong stems,  and helps prevent  damping off.

Moisture levels

Water levels as any gardener know as crucial to plants, but with seedlings it is a bit tricky. Certainly the peat pellets, coir pots, mini greenhouse, coffee cups and pots that have been carefully planted are being watered regularly, but with the extra light and greenhouse like conditions watering may be a challenge. Of course it is highly recommended to either water via mat watering system or use a spray bottle to keep them seeds moist without disturbing them.

 

Mini Greenhouses on self-wicking water mat

Mini Greenhouses on self-wicking water mat

 

If corms or tuberous plants such as begonias or dahlias are started now to get a jump on the outside growing season, watering with a small container, gently on to the media is best to ensure thorough watering.

Begonia corms    sprouting

Begonia corms
sprouting

 

Possibly the easiest thing for garden novices especially is not drowning the seeds they plant in the spring. While the soil are growing media needs to be moist, try to ensure a consistent source of water by thinking of the seedlings as larger more mature plants. Most plant lovers know they do not need to water a plant every day, but when the soil surface is generally dry. Of course while there are always plants with more exacting water and lighting requirements, this is generally a good run of thumb that should be applied to the younger plant as well.

If there are tray covers on holding in the moisture, check the surface of the media used for possible mould formation. This is also possible when contaminated medium or dirty pots have been re-used. Provided the sprouts are up and growing fine, consider opening any vent on the lid or shifting it to allow more ventilation while maintaining a moist atmosphere over all. If you have rigged up plastic to create a greenhouse effect or are indeed using a greenhouse, remember circulation is vital, so create an opening and consider the use of a fan for good air movement.

Remember not all seeds even of the same plant will sprout at the same time so do not leave the lid on waiting for them all to catch up, so take the lid or dome off when a good percentage have sprouted and mist the rest. While moisture is required, at this point especially, good circulation is a must.

 

striving for better air flow

striving for better air flow

 

Fertilizing

One element often overlooked with seedlings is when and if they need fertilizer. Remember nutrients are important but the seed embryo itself contains all the food the new sprouts will need until they have developed true leaves, not the first ones formed. In fact, according to several expert sources, even mild fertilizer can kill the seedlings by over accelerating their metabolism and burning them.

If the growing medium you used contains no fertilizer, begin weekly feedings with a ¼ strength dilution of fertilizer, whether synthetic or organic. Keep in mind for most plants higher amounts of Phosphorus for good root and plant formation. In addition, if Coir pots or media are used, that coconut fibre product can compete with the new plants of Nitrogen so a more balanced N-P-K (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) ratio is best. After a week or two ½ strength can be used.

Full recommended dosing is not advisable until the plant is larger and ready to be acclimatized in to a cold frame, or shady area on the way to its permanent home. Another option at that point is mixing a granular organic or synthetic slow release fertilizer in to the soil when the seedlings are moved.

Additional Suggestions

There are countless sites, books, garden experts and even gardening forums that offer a variety of information and support and a few are listed below:

www.GardenWeb.com

www.Helpfulgardener.com

 

Final notes:

While to some, planting seeds in the spring is not something they are interested in, others find it very rewarding. To those of you who cannot spare the time but love to garden, remember most garden centres carry basic perennials, annuals, vegetables etc. at a reasonable cost so you too can have a garden of your own without breaking the bank… so whether it be seeds, sprouts, veggies, ferns, flora or fauna…let your garden inspire you…and happy Spring wherever you are!

lily Logo

 

 

 

Germination of seeds

Germination of seeds is certainly a topic in most gardeners’ minds at this time of the year.  In fact, while I was cleaning out my old pots and collecting seeds to plant, my mind wandered to wonder…wondering how the tiny, hard seeds can indeed produce shoots to become wonderful and inspiring plants from something that almost seems dead.

group pf germinating seeds

group of germinating seeds

A seed surely looks lifeless as it displays no obvious signs of life rolling around in its package.  According to several articles in fact even biochemical tests for metabolic processes such as respiration, show very little to indicate whether the seed is alive. Of course for us the seed collectors, we hope the seeds have been stored correctly so they are not dead, but merely dormant.

 

Dormancy

 

While all living seeds are inactive, awaiting hydration, some require specific environmental conditions which generally mean a longer time before germinating.  In the case of home germination of seeds, gardeners need to know what those conditions are, as generally stated on seed packages or by checking out good sources of planting information.

Common vegetable garden seeds generally lack any kind of dormancy and are ready to sprout with some moisture and warm enough temperature for their biochemistry to begin. Many flower seeds and those from wild plants in particular may have deeper forms of dormancy that require further conditions before their growth is triggered.

While we may be familiar with scarifying and stratifying, both terms that describe external treatments   of a seeds outer membrane that some seeds require to leave their dormant state, temperature, and light also play a role before hydration can begin.  There are also physiological factors that signal the end of dormancy, such as plant hormones of Gibberellins which activate plant growth.  Other seeds may have a naturally found coating of Abscisic Acid which prevents germination until environmental conditions have worn this layer off and provided the conditions for germination of those seeds.

Germination

 

Germination can be explained simply with a few brief diagrams, or in great detail with many technical terms. When I bought seeds recently and began to collect pots and planting materials, the gardener and biochemist in me wondered how a few molecules of water and some sun could cause the tiny speck of a seed to ultimately form a large, beautiful plant.

Regardless of its size, each seed contains an embryo and in most cases, a store of food to help that seedling begin its formation.

Avocado seed diagram

Avocado seed diagram

 

A “typical” seed   has fundamental parts:

  • a seed coat
  • a storage area (in this case the endosperm which houses food and genetic material)
  • a dormant embryo

 

The embryo has three parts:

  • the cotyledon (or seed leaf)
  • the epicotyl (becomes the shoot)
  • the radicle (becomes the root)

 

456px-Salix_scouleriana_seed

 

 

 

Physiology of Germination

 

When water penetrates through the seed coat and begins to soften up the hard tissues inside, causing the seed to swell up and then split.  Then water enters even faster and begins to activate the biochemistry of the dormant embryo.   Once such substance activated there is Gibberelli Acid (GA), which is a plant hormone similar to steroids.

Then the GA is carried with the water through out the seed tissues and in to the endosperm until it activates genes inside the seed and a complex DNA/RNA reaction takes place. Basically this “blue print” allows the genetic characteristics of the parent plant to be passed on through the seed. Also as this is going on, the embryo feeds on the starch and sugar found in the endosperm as well.

Under proper conditions, the seed begins to germinate and the embryonic tissues begin to protrude from the seed’s casing in the form of what is called the Radicle. This primary root anchors the seedling in to the ground as well as absorbing more moisture.  From here other growth takes place, but the components vary.

In most plants another shoot emerges, many of which have three parts:

– the embryonic stem called the hypocotyls

– the cotyledons ( first leaves)

– the epicotyls

 

 The hypocotyls

The hypocotyls grows out and lifts the growing seedling up as it becomes the stem of the seedling and carries the cotyledons (embryonic leaves)   clear of the ground.  At this point growth components change depending on the classification .Flowering plants are classified in to two groups, depending on whether they have one or two cotyledons.

The cotyledons

Monocots have only one single shoot or cotyledon after the seed breaks out of the ground. In these plants the roots develop from the stem instead of from the base of the embryo. Included in this group are flowers such as orchids and lilies as well as wheat, onions and corn, asparagus and many other plants and grasses.

 

 

Monocot diagram

Monocot diagram

 

Dicots have two initial leaves or cotyledons that grow from the embryo.  Then the the epicotyls forms the initial stem which holds up the true leaves, while the radicle grows and forms the plant’s the root-system. Most flowering plants found in the garden belong to this classification. Beans are also a dicot.

 

 

Dicots

 

The epicotyls

The epicotyls, which are above the cotyledons and below the plants real leaves, are not found in every plant. Where they are present, they become the plants stem, which rises up and gives way to the plant’ s further  leaf and stem development. The growth of plants is another matter that requires far more complex physiological terminology than this author/gardener can explain.

 

Germination of seeds

 

In addition to Monocot and , Dicot germination there are other forms including but not restricted to Epigeous, Hypogenous and Precocious germination. There are many names, classifications, conditions the seed requires and other complexities that my brain can barely contain!

Despite that, germinating seeds each spring is part of my celebratory ritual and I am glad to have some basic understanding of what really is going on inside each seed.  Based on several definitions, seed germination is said to have occurred when growth of the radicle bursts the seed coat and protrudes as a young root… but to us gardeners the no names matter as the excitement builds when the green shoots poke their heads above the ground and inspire us to bury more seeds for germination!

 

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Indoor seed growing

Indoor seed growing is always a joy for many reasons, not the least is that it means winter is nearing an end and spring is not far off. Of course there are many lessons learned each year as we try new seeds and new techniques that often do not yield the results we hoped for. Personally speaking, despite any setbacks…soggy seedlings and all, I still find it so inspiring that so much life, joy, beauty, food and medicinal elements come from such small seed.

There are a few basics that can help the novice who wants to start indoor seed growing and of course there are countless articles in magazine, books and on-line. Please take the following information as a starting point…off you go now, as there are countless seeds to plant.

 

sunflowerseedlings_1

Choosing Seeds:

Before choosing seeds, remember that the soil and lighting conditions of your garden need to be considered, just as you would when purchasing live plants. The light requirement of the plants after germination is generally shown by a symbol on the seed packages of a sun for full sun through to a cloud for full shade.

Seed sources are everywhere from floral departments of large grocery stores, garden centres, hardware stores and even big box department stores. Of course dreaming our way through local seed catalogues is marvelous fun and gives the widest variety of choices for annuals, vegetables and even perennial seeds. In addition, the great photographs, detailed planting and maturity information as well as many new hybrids not available in stores, makes these companies a great source!

 

Getting ready for Spring

Getting ready for Spring

If you belong to a horticultural society or garden club, you are probably able to participate in a seed exchange for a good source of vial seed as well as information on the plants themselves. For those on their own, perhaps others in your neighbourhood have seeds to share or swap. Remember, once you have a hearty plant you love, whether grown from seed or purchased full grown, you will have all the seeds you need for next year’s growing season.

Annuals and vegetables are generally the easiest to start indoors as their germination requirements are quite straight forward. Perennials on the other hand may need stratification or scarification before germination can begin. Stratification is a cold period required to break the seeds dormancy, which can be achieved by a few weeks in the refrigerator before planting, or by planting directly in to the garden bed near the last frost date. Scarification is nicking or sanding through the seeds tough outer coat so the moisture required for germination can get in.

 

Seed Planting

Follow Directions:

Seed packs will contain a great deal of information on the plant itself, including the light requirement as mentioned, and length of time for flowers to bloom or vegetables to harvest. With new varieties of both available, even maturity times have changed so reading the packages is always important.

 

Perennial seed instructions

Perennial seed instructions

Annual seeds best started Outdoors

Annual seeds best started Outdoors

Further information on planting depth, times, light requirements, and growing temperatures are provided to ensure you have optimal germination. In addition, specific details for more challenging seeds would also be listed. An example of this would be for seeds requiring light to germinate so you not cover them with soil, while others might need soaking, scarifying or stratifying. Plants that do not transplant well will also be indicated and these seeds should only be planted outside once the danger of frost is past.

Word of warning: If you plant too early, the seedlings and young plants may become spindly and overgrown, despite good sunlight or strong grow lights!

 

Planting Media:

While regular potting soil can be used but as it can be heavy when wet, soilless mix is recommended. Jiffy pellets, which are peat moss compressed for ease of storage and use are readily available both in kits and often priced per piece. The advantage of these media is their inexpensive prices and that no containers are needed as the mesh around them ensures they retain their shape even in the wet, expanded state.

Jiffy pellet kits are readily available in most types of stores selling seeds as they hope to encourage customers to try their hand at indoor seed growing.  There are many brands of soilless mix available at garden centre and many easy recipes for mixing your own.

As it has now been determined that peat Moss is not an infinitely available resource, grown coconut fibre or compost can be used instead with the addition of compost.

Basic Soilless Potting Mixes              

  • 4-6 parts Sphagnum Peat Moss
  • 1 part Perlite
  • 1 part Vermiculite

OR

  • 4 parts coconut coir
  • 2 parts compost
  • 1 part Vermiculite
  • 1 part perlite

 

Coir is a natural fibrous material extracted  from coconut husks, which are the byproducts of other industries  that use coconuts for food products. In addition to many commercial items manufactured from these harvested husks, they are also used in horticulture.Frequently labelled as Coco Peat , this product is commonly available in gerden cnter as are vermiculite and perlite.

Coir or coconut husk segregation

Coir or coconut husk segregation

 

Coco peat is recommended as a substitute for shagnum moss (peat moss), because it is free of bacteria and fungal spore, and produces good results without the environmental damage caused by peat mining.

Coco peat is usually shipped and sold in compressed forms of bales, briquettes or discs which expand up to more than ten times their weight after  the consummers add water.Unfortunaley while it is a great produce to hold moisture, it is low in nutrients and can compute for nitrogen in the soil,  so when used as a soil additive compost or other slow release fertilizer should be added.

Containers and accessories

There are a wide variety of containers you can use  for indoor seed growing, from small flower pots to any container with drainage holes (cell pack, pots, jiffy pellets, Styrofoam coffee cups, food trays etc.). Remember if reusing containers, to wash with them soap, water and a little bleach first and then rinse them very well to ensure any fungus, bugs or bleach is long gone!

 

old pots before washing

old pots before washing

 

In addition you would need trays to hold those containers, plastic covers or domes to keep the moisture in and labels to ensure plants are properly identified. Of course you can use the clear lids of takeout containers or even clear plastic veggie bags held above the seeds. I have found popsicle sticks wedged down in the corners of a small container works fine and I remove it once the seeds have poked out of the growing media.

Theses sticks can also be used as labels there or if broken off and placed in front of where you will place a specific seed. One drawback to these is that ink can run on the wood. You can buy plastic plant labels or even cut up margarine lids. There are many ways money can be saved and items reused and indoor seed planting is no different.

 

Planting:

Fill the containers with your sterile planting media and moisten the mixture so it feels like a damp sponge about an hour an hour before sowing to let the water penetrate evenly. While wait you can collect all seeds and planting devices as well as go over the seed planting information to ensure you have soaked, scarified or stratified the appropriate seeds.

The most difficult thing about planting seed is getting the right depth especially for the smaller seed. In addition, the smaller seeds almost seem to disappear so for those a planting aid helps. There are small plastic seed holders available that have a tiny opening designed to let small seeds out one or two at a time. For the handy minded person, a small envelope can be sealed and then a tiny hole poked in the end, allowing seeds out.

 

Watering:

Your newly planted seeds need to be watered lightly from the bottom of the pot or by using a spray bottle to ensure the seeds are moistened but not disturbed. When they are moist, cover them with a plastic dome and place them in a warm location to germinate. Other options for speedier germination are placing them on top of the fridge, under grow lights , safely by a warm heat source as they germinate best between 18 – 24°C. In fact, there are temperature controlled heating pads specifically designed for this purpose which are available in kits or individually at most garden centres.

Once germination has take place, make certain the dome or clear plastic cover is unsealed to ensure good ventilation and prevent fungal growth in the soil. Fungal buildup, called damping off can cause seedlings to turn black at soil level and die overnight. In the past I have had this issue when crowding pots and pellets too close together which also blocks good airflow.

Prevention is best, but antifungal products are available, and seedlings could be sprayed with commercial fungicides Mycostop or Captan , but there are healthier herbal remedies you can use. A home remedy that apparently prevents this as well is a one dusting of ground cinnamon on the soil surface.  A Chamomile tea infusion of 3 tea bags soaked for about 20 minutes can be lightly misted over the seedlings.  Garlic as well is known to be a natural fungicide, so mash up several cloves and boil then in about an inch of water and water in to the seedlings once cool.  Of course good spacing and even a fan can ensure better air movement, no matter where you have the seeds growing.

Once the seedlings get an inch or two high, you can remove domes or covers completely, but keep an eye they not get too dry either. Water lightly still, once the soil begins to look dry.

 

Light:

Seedlings love light, so if you only have a few, placing them on a sunny window ledge should do the trick. For many of use with limited light and a seedling urge that is hard to control, grow lights are a good option. There are light stands, small lamps and many fixtures where grow light bulbs can be used instead of regular fluorescent tubes. Again, a much needed field trip to a garden center is a must, at least to research your options!

Grow lights or cool fluorescent lights work best and now there are a few frequency options such as natural, wide range and those designed to simulate sunlight. Ideally optimal amount of light for your seedlings under lights are 16 hours on, 8 off. And the lights should only be 4-6 inches above them to start. Remember, whether your newly sprouted plants are under lights or in a sunny spot, leggy seedling are an indication that the light is inadequate.

Transplanting & Fertilizing:

After the seedlings have formed their second set of leaves they can be gently transplanted in to individual pots. In addition, feeding them a general balanced water soluble fertilizer of 20-20-20 at approximately ¼ strength once a week, is recommended for good growth. Gradually increase the strength over the next few weeks as you prepare to harden the new plants and move them outside.

 

Hardening Off :

 Before you move the young plants in to their final containers, or in to the ground of your garden, they need to adjust to the outside conditions they will call home. This process, which is called our seedlings into containers or the ground outdoors, it is essentially to “hardening off” is a gradual period of acclimatizing which ensures a good survival and growth of the once tiny seedlings.

 

As the light intensity, temperature outdoors, wind etc. is much different than what they were used to inside, begin  by moving the trays and containers out in to a shady, protected area  for a couple of days . Then gradually extending the stay and moving them over a week to ten day period, to where they get their ideal light, soil and temperatures needs.

 

 

Winter Garden Tour

Winter Garden Tours

Winter garden tours may seem like a dream unless you live in a warm climate, but today when the sun was out I decided to take a tour of my garden, with camera in hand.  Normally the weather would make this a rather chilly walk, but as the early morning sun and temperatures up to 9 º Celsius had melted the snow on most of my property  while others around were full of snow!

two seasons at once

two seasons at once

 

While this January has not yet seen the record -15º, with the exception of the Hellebore plant in my side garden, I expected everything to be frozen. To my surprise there were so many plants still alive, despite the -4 º temperature nights and warm almost Spring like weather during this unusually warm January in Canada.

 

Who know there would be a lovely green Fever-few (Tanacetum parthenium) plant nodding at me in the wind? In fact, there were parts of the old plant with new growth bursting forth in both the side and back gardens.

 

Feverfew

Feverfew

 

Close to the Feverfew, are the mixed red and green leaves of the Toad lily (Tricyrtis latifolia) which survives being previously buried in many inches of snow.

Toad Lily leaves and Blue Fescue

Toad Lily leaves and Blue Fescue

The snow in the front garden also was inches deep for several weeks, but not long enough or cold enough to kill off the small pink rose bush that bloomed there all summer and was now an inspiring part of my winter garden tour. While there are no flowers, there quite a few dark green leaves and even a rose hip that waved as a reminder of past glory!

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Past the front and through the side gate, leading to the north side yard, revealed even more winter surprises. First my eyes fell on the lovely green crinkled leaves of a Primula, easily recognized despite none of the yellow flowers being evident.

Primula

Primula

Representing the wildflower family, not to be outdone, was one Golden rod.  Bouncing in the wind, its tiny yellow flowers made a statement, despite not displaying their brilliant summer colour. Buried also in the snow, but not down for the count, was a wild weed Geranium (possibly a Dovefoot Geranium).

 

Goldenrod

Goldenrod

P1410093

wild Geranium

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I walked completely around to the rock garden as my winter garden tour continued, under the huge Spruce tree, I found buds forming on the heather plant (Calluna Vulgaris) that in early to mid summer would be filled with lovely, tiny, pink blooms.

 

my Heather in bud

my Heather in bud

Heather in bloom

Heather in bloom

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beside this was a Chrysanthemum plant fiercely growing new green leaves, despite the dried flower bud still attached!

 

 struggling Chrysanthemum

struggling Chrysanthemum

 

Not to be outdone was the lovely evergreen fern Dryopeteris erythrosora (Autumn fern).

 

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 Last, but not least, was a Heuchera key lime pie that didn’t seem to mind the cold at all!

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Today, despite the return of real winter weather and -10 º weather the Hellebore is happily bobbing its head and I am bundled up, remembering my inspiring winter garden tour while dreams of seedlings run through my head.

sunflowerseedlings_1

 

Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose

Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose

Recently, while hurrying in from shopping just before my celebration of Christmas, I was amazed to find a plant in bloom despite the cold winter temperatures. In fact with night time getting to -3 Celsius and highs during the day of +2, most of the plants in my garden have long died or frozen. Certainly the white blooms that bobbed in the cold winter winds caught my eye and then after a few pictures, led me to check on this plant which was new to my garden and whose name I remembered to be  Hellebore plant or the Christmas Rose.

 

Day before Christmas garden surprise

Day before Christmas garden surprise

 

Hellebore Plant general Information

This Genus of plants, from the Ranunculaceae (or buttercup) Family, are early-flowering, generally poisonous perennial plant that has large divided leaves. According to folklore hellebore was used in 585 BC. , to poison the Greek city of Kirrha’s water supply, leaving the troops weak with diarrhea and unable to defend  the city  and it is even suspected in the death of Alexander the Great.

Native to much of Europe and parts of Asia, these plants are found naturally growing in areas of England, Spain, and Portugal. They also grow wild along the northern coast of Turkey with the greatest concentration in the Balkans. In North America, based on plant temperature zone, these plants are grown successfully hardy from as low as Zone 4 to the warmer zone 8.

The Hellebores, originally 16-20 species, were valued for their winter and early spring flowers and still are today.  Classic species were known for their drooping white, pink, dark purple, sometimes green flowers on plants which generally grew 12-15 inches tall. These flowers are made up of 5 petals that are not typical, but are unique modified sepals that support the real flower which is in the centre of the “petals”. The hellebore’s real flower is a ring of small cup like petals called nectarines.

sepals and nec

sepals and nectaries

 

Nectaries are special cup or tubular like petals that contain glands that secrete nectar to entice insects, especially bees. This sugary substance not only provides an important food source for the bees in cooler weather, but attracts them for the purpose of pollinating the plants themselves. Both the nectaries and the sepals last a long time and then fall of similarly to petals falling off a rose.

Species/Hybrid colours

Highly valued for their colder weather flowers, Hellebores are now grown and planted with increasing popularity. As a result originally with 20 species, now breeders have begun hybridization of the original 20 species to mass produce an increasingly wide variety of plants with different colour blooms and petal combinations, including double flowered varieties. Now colours range from dark purple through to different shades of green, with multi -toned and even speckled blooms. Of course there are still many amazing single bloom specimens too!

 

solitary bloom

solitary bloom

bloom in snow

bloom in snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

H. Argutifolius or Corsican Hellebore is widely grown for its pale green star shaped flowers and leathery foliage. In my garden, I have the very popular Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose, official known as H. Niger. This plant white has pure white flowers in winter, specifically near Christmas  In fact, the blooms on mine opened the day before Christmas and now are covered in snow, barely alive on this January 1, 2013.

 

Boxing Day after storm

Boxing Day after storm

 

H. Orientalis, which is commonly known as Lenten Rose based on the plant’s seasonal flowering time near Easter, has flowers that range from white to creamy yellow. Originally found in the Ukraine, this species is not commonly found in gardens, but is used to create new subspecies due to its hardiness and the ease of which it adapts to new colour formations. Currently the Orientals and hybrids are increasing in popularity and they are seen in gardens everywhere.

 

 

Hellebore Orient

Hellebore Orient

 

 

Growing Hellebores

Hellebores are readily found at your local garden centres or perhaps you are lucky enough to have a friend who will split you off a starter plant in late spring or early fall. The plant may be added to your garden in the summer as well, but as they prefer shade and consistent levels of moisture they will need much closer attention if that is your planting time.

 

Requirements

Moisture

Hellebore plants can grow in any type of soil, but thrive best in soil that is well draining as they do not like to have soggy roots. Once established however Hellebore plants are quite drought tolerant. In addition, they like soil is rich in nutrients, especially organic matter.

Soil

Before planting anything, knowing your soil type is important.  If you want a complete analysis of your soil, there are test kits for general info and site where it can actually be sent away for a complete breakdown in to elements such as Sodium (Na+) etc. For most of us, knowing if the soil is sandy or clay in composition as well as the basic pH, that is good enough.

If you have heavy clay soil, adding some grit, such as sand and mixing them together well with organic matter will provide better drainage as well as basic nutrients. For sandy soil, adding some heavier clay based soil or clay pellets will help prevent the water from running through too quickly.

pH

In either case, it is reported in quite a few articles, that Hellebore plants prefer alkaline soil. This means earth with a pH of over 7.0. However, unless you know the pH of your soil, adding too many additives can cause more problems than it solves. One article I found stated they preferred 7.0 which is in fact a neutral pH and says Hellebores grow fine near evergreens. Evergreen trees and their fallen needles make the soil pH lower than 7.0, but should not be a problem.

Again, testing for pH can be done with a kit purchased at many garden centres. If you need to bring it up, dolomite Lime is suggested and to lower the pH, sulphur is recommended. Certainly checking with the garden centre  were you buy these  products  is best before adding, as the amount needed depends on the test results and the area of soil you plan to adjust.

Fertilizing

Before planting, adding organic compost, such as manure, leaf mold, mushroom compost or lovely rich homemade compost and mixing it in to the soil well will always give any plants a good start. Once they are beginning to show signs of new growth, adding bone meal or a slow release fertilizer will help once the plants are established and before the height of summer’s heat arrives.

 

compost

compost

Light Requirements

Again, there are differences in opinion here. Generally however, Hellebore plants prefer partial shade and not the midday sun for hours. Suggested locations for planting are near deciduous trees for several reasons. First these trees provide a break for hot sun during the summer and secondly once their leaves fall off, the plants will be able to take advantage of the reduced strength of the sun in the fall and winter months.

Planting near evergreen hedging or rows of conifers, provides a break against the dry and biting cold of winter winds. Provided the hellebore is planed with half a day of reasonable light the plant should be fine.

Disease

Hellebore plants are susceptible a few disease including   blight mold and crown rot fungal as well as Black Spot and Black Death.  Both Black Spot and Black Death cause blacking on the leaves, but the Death is far more fatal. If you see darkening of the leaves or any disease at all, examine the plant closely, make notes and then head straight to a horticultural expert!

 

Hellebore Black Death is a serious disease of hellebores, probably caused by a newly discovered virus, where plants become stunted, deformed and marked by black streaks and ring patterns. This viral disease causes stunting and distortion. In addition, it causes black streaking and netting patterns on the leaves that can also develop on the stems and flowers. All infected plants should be dug up promptly and destroyed as there is no known treatment that controls Black Death.

 

Black Death

Black Death

 

Black spot is generally known as leaf spot and in this plant is caused by the fungus Microsphaeropsis hellebore.  The fungus infects leaves and stems giving rise to roughly round dead, brown spots. Remove all affected leaves promptly and destroy them so they will not be a source of re-infection in the next gardening season. In addition there are also fungicides available at garden centre, which can be effective on Hellebore plants.

 Pests

Hellebore plants are good eating for aphids, mice, slugs and snails. These all prefer the seedlings found from this self-seeding plant as well as the buds on mature plants. Sprays are available for aphids, and traditional course grit may prove to be effective against snails and slugs.

Personal Experience

 

Despite everything, most plant experts agree that hellebores are generally trouble-free, but it pays to be aware of possible problems. As with many other family of plants good breeding practises have resulted in many new varieties that are easy to care for and resistant to most pests and diseases. All this being said, I still love my Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose.

Armed with my new found knowledge and an ever increasing fascination of the inspiration gardens have over me, I intend to try several other species of Hellebore plants this coming spring and hope you will too!

 

 

Just a few Hellebore            flowers

Just a few Hellebore flowers