Garden log, 1.4.15

Despite 70F (21C) temperatures today, it’s winter and I must govern myself accordingly in the garden. I went through the seed packets and found a handful of treasures to winter sow:

I’ll keep an eye on the anemones and spinach. For now, I’m growing the spinach in the cold frame, though I may transplant some of it into a larger bed as the month progresses. The anemones will need a second cold, moist period, so in late spring they’ll migrate to the refrigerator for a month or two. I hope to be able to transplant them to the garden this fall.

January here can be terribly unpredictable: This week, we’ll swing from a high of 70 to a high of 29F (-1.6C). I’m sure we had winter temperature swings when I was growing up, but I don’t remember anything like this. And we always had at least a few snows; that’s not a guarantee now. The more time I spend in the garden, the more I worry about climate change.

My snowdrops are blooming and the foliage of daffodils and crocus stands just above the mulch. I’m closer to my goal of having something in bloom all year round.

This year’s bumper crop of acorns has meant that the deer have stayed away up to now, but two days ago I saw seven (seven!) adult deer at once in the neighbor’s backyard. I hope my garden looks more trouble than it might be worth to them. Thinking more and more about the necessity of a fence, especially with Henry‘s addition to the household. Perhaps he’ll frighten off the squirrels and voles, who are making one heck of a mess in the soft, wet ground.

My seed-grown cyclamen

Last year, I planted cyclamen seeds. Last month, I saw their first stirrings to life.

This month, they’re going nuts. Every time I pass by the pots, I find more leaves pushing up from the gravel.

Cyclamen seedlings

Cyclamen seedlings

Two species are doing very well: Cyclamen coum album, and Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum. I’m surprised that Cyclamen hederifolium isn’t doing as well, as that’s supposed to be the easiest to grow. I have heard that C. graecum is supposed to be quite finicky, although plants from Greece and Turkey tend to perform well here as long as the drainage is good. I can’t wait to see their foliage take on its pattern. Here are two images  from John Lonsdale of the Pacific Bulb Society:

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum foliage. Photo by John Lonsdale, via Pacific Bulb Society.

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum foliage. Photo by John Lonsdale, via Pacific Bulb Society.

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum leaves. Photo by John Lonsdale via Pacific Bulb Society.

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum leaves. Photo by John Lonsdale via Pacific Bulb Society.

I can transplant them after they have 3-4 sets of true leaves–no idea how long that will take. The Pacific Bulb Society indicates fertilization with an 18-8-18 formula, alternating with a fertilizer based on calcium nitrate. I’ll show in a future post how to mix your own fertilizer blends.

For now, I must sow the rest of the seeds and see if I can get another batch going. The prospect of having such wonderful foliage to get me through a grim winter cheers me up immensely.

What are your favorite winter plants?

Growing cyclamen from seed: Cautiously optimistic

Last year, I tried growing cyclamen from seed.

Spring came and went and I saw no evidence of success; only empty pots topped with chicken grit. I set them on my potting table outside and left them to do what they would. Deep down, I believed I was merely procrastinating at composting their remains and sanitizing the pots for something else.

Last week, I happened to glance down at the table as I passed by.

cyclamen coum seedling sept 2014 2

A single leaf of Cyclamen coum emerging from beneath the gravel

A seedling of Cyclamen coum emerging! I studied it for perhaps five minutes before I convinced myself it wasn’t a weed. And then I noticed something else: I seem to have two (count ’em!) seedlings of Cyclamen rohlfsianum coming up.

Two seedlings (the one on the right is really tiny) of Cyclamen rohlfsianum.

Two seedlings (the one on the right is really tiny) of Cyclamen rohlfsianum.

I’m delirious with excitement. I intend to keep my hands well off them for some time until they appear resilient enough to cope with me. I will also leave the other pots to see if they’re thinking similarly…Bittster, how long should I give them?

 

Winter sowing continues

I hope you had a wonderful and relaxing holiday. Mine was pleasant if not always relaxing!

I love January and the promise the new year always holds. I’m not the type to make formal resolutions, but I love planning and anticipating and trying always to improve myself and my surroundings. It’s a long haul, of course, but we make the road by walking, right?

This winter sowing business is addicting. So easy! I keep my container of coir potting mix handy, and when I’ve got a spare half-hour I cut open a few milk cartons and plop in some seeds. I am a  little nervous about what will happen in spring when (with any luck) I’ve  got more plants than I have time to install them all (ah, anticipation!).

seed pans early onChristmas Eve I planted another handful: an unidentified variety of red hollyhock, amethyst flower (Browallia americana), feverfew ‘Flore Pleno’ (Chrysanthemum parthenium ‘Flore Pleno’), and something that is either horehound or German red strawberry tomato. The envelope came labeled on both sides, and not knowing what horehound seed looks like (and now having sown all of it), I will have fun guessing until the seedlings pop up.

Winter zeal

It’s not much of a winter around here lately, with temperatures in the 50s and 60s. But the trees are bare and the landscape is otherwise fairly bleak. My outlook, however, is anything but, as I have become newly converted to the technique of winter sowing.

Winter sowing is the cheap and lazy gardener’s expressway to paradise. The idea is to take advantage of nature’s cycles of temperature and moisture fluctuations and to allow seeds to do what they have evolved to do. I have only had moderate success with seeds in the past, because while I’ve started off well, at some point life always got busy and I neglected to water them, and the seedlings dried out, or otherwise succumbed to damping off. I suppose that’s still going to be possible with winter sowing, but perhaps in the absence of central heating and arid indoor air, they’ll fare better.

I joined Garden Web’s Winter Sowing forum, and took advantage of their newbie seed offering. A kind soul in Ohio gathers saved seed from other winter sowers around the country, and compiles free packets of seeds for those of us new to the technique. I got my package a few days ago and I was giddy with excitement!

DSC_0002After supper, I dug out the saved milk cartons and Chinese take-out pans, filled them with my favorite shredded coir mix, and sowed Ruta graveolens, Digitalis (sp. unknown); soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), English lavender, and Maryland wild senna (Senna marilandica), an important host plant. Full description of a proven winter sowing technique can be found here.

I must spend all available days between now and April preparing ground for these little guys. But I’ve got the shredded leaves ready to till in. I can’t wait to see how this experiment goes!

Propagation, part 1

With the weather being rather miserable last week, I decided it was time to bring the garden indoors. As things naturally slow down this time of year, and we return to school and work routines, my head clears a bit and it’s easier for me to realize that I’ve got to begin planning for those inevitable bursts of gardening drive that hit me in late February (or maybe sooner, weather permitting).

I have had fairly good luck with propagating plants from cuttings. Some plants work better than others, but it’s the easiest and cheapest way I’ve found to get loads of plants quickly. I also have had moderate success growing plants from seed. So I’m starting the process now, hoping to keep myself and my budget out of trouble later.

I begin by scrounging whatever pots and containers I can find in the shed (self-watering are the best option for lazy gardeners like myself), and giving them a good sanitizing with a solution of bleach and water. Scrub vigorously and rinse well. A little baking soda helps get the encrusted grime off.

My starting medium of choice these days is coir, which comes in compressed bricks from various sources (I got mine at Gardener’s Supply Company). These are easier to deal with and far lighter than sacks of potting soil, and using them alleviates eco-guilt over peat bog destruction. Plus, when it’s all done, it goes in the compost and won’t set up like brick when it gets mixed into the sticky clay of my garden beds.

I unwrap the brick and drop it into a bucket, and cover it with about 4 quarts of warm water. It blows up as it absorbs the water and becomes the lovely fluffy stuff you see here.

I found a slug in one of my pots. Eeeaauugh. Pass the salt.

A sparkling, shiny container ready to go.

These are seeds and seedpods from Iris tectorum, Japanese roof iris. Okay, these aren’t cuttings. But I am going to give them a try.

I fill the container with the coir, water thoroughly, sprinkle the seeds over it and add a little more coir over top (just enough to cover). Water again, and stick it outside in the cold frame.

My theory here is that if they scatter their seeds this way in nature, and they’re open to the elements, and they’ve managed to reproduce themselves for who knows how long, then surely I can use the same minimal approach in my garden and expect at least some similar measure of results. Who knows. I imagine it’s perhaps easier with Iris tectorum to divide the clumps, but if I’m lucky with this approach I will be able to have a lovely river of purple-blue blooms next year or year after, whereas with the dividing approach I will have merely a puddle.

Next up: actual cuttings.