Pot Shots: Elephant Ears

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All of the various ‘elephant ears’ love our coastal Virginia heat and humidity.  They grow visibly each day, generously sending up new leaves so long as they are kept watered and their soil is rich with nutrition.  This pot of Caladiums, Alocasia and Colocasias was just potted up yesterday.  it looks a bit sparse at the moment, but will soon fill in very nicely.

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Caladium ‘Pink Splash’ will grow to two feet in partial sun.  It grows with a Begonia, a dark purple hybrid Colocasia and Alocasia ‘Portora.’

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Caladiums are hardy only to Zone 10, but it is easy to dig them up and dry them in November, saving them inside over the winter to grow again the following year.  Keep even their dormant tubers at 65F or above.  The Caladium ‘Southern Charm’ is a new hybrid that grows in full to partial sun.

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Alocasias are hardy to Zone 8 or 9, and so they can be brought indoors in pots and kept alive in a garage or basement over winter.  I’ve not had good luck with digging and drying their tubers, but kept our best Alocasias in full leaf and growing all winter in our garage.

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I bought this Alocasia at Trader Joes last winter and don’t know its cultivar name. It will be interesting to see how large it grows.

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Most Colocasias are also hardy only to Zones 8 or 9, though there are a few that will survive our Williamsburg winters in the ground.  They spread by stolons and so increase each year.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’, hardy to Zone 8, spends its winter vacation in a pot in our basement.  This division is quickly outgrowing its pot in our new little water garden.  Many Colocasias grow happily in a pond or boggy ground.

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When kept from year to year, all three of these elephant ears calve off new tubers and increase.  Their tubers grow a bit beefier each year and produce larger plants each summer.  If you like elephant ears, and take simple measures to help them through winter, you will soon have plenty to grow and more to share.

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Colocasia ‘Pink China’ is hardy in our Zone 7 garden.  Alocasia ‘Sarian’ grows in a pot with Caladium ‘White Queen.’

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The potential size of most Colocasia and Alocasia hybrids is determined by available light, moisture, and how much room you give their roots to grow.  They may grow to 6′ high or more when their needs are met.  They always grow larger planted into garden soil than when grown in a pot.  But, it is easier to keep them alive year to year when they live in a pot.

When potting or re-potting, I mix some Espoma Plant Tone into the potting mix.  Depending on the mix, I often add some additional perlite to improve aeration and drainage.  Mulch the soil with pea gravel or aquarium gravel to neaten up the presentation while helping to retain moisture for these thirsty plants.  Finish with a sprinkle of Osmocote time release fertilizer to keep them well nourished every time you water.

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This Alocasia kept some leaves through the winter in our living room.  It is sending up new growth now that it is back out on the patio.

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If you want to grow something truly spectacular in your summer pots, and something that needs very little care or attention from the gardener, try any of these beautiful ‘elephant ear’ plants.  Add a Begonia or two for blooms, and you will have your own bit of tropical paradise in your summer garden.

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June 6, Alocasia ‘Portora’ has begun to grow surrounded by Caladium ‘Southern Charm.’ By next month this time, the Alocasia, which can grow to 6′,  should be significantly taller than the Caladiums.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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These Colocasias are just getting started on their summer growth.

 

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Pot Shots: Alocasia

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Sometimes good intentions and a little informed effort pay big dividends.  Last fall, I wanted to save the two huge Alocasia plants that flanked our front porch through the summer.  But we’d planted them in very large pots; pots that hold their positions by the porch season after season.  I wanted to re-plant the pots with small variegated holly shrubs for winter, and didn’t have a plan in my back pocket for overwintering these 4’+ beauties indoors.

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Our Alocasia last November

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After a little research, I learned that they could be stored through the winter, root balls intact, in grocery bags kept in our frost-free basement.  All of their leaves had finally died back by early May, when I moved their root balls back outside, temporarily housed in large black plastic nursery pots.

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It’s alive! June 26

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It has taken several months for these Alocasias to wake up and grow again.  One responded weeks before the other, and it is easy to see the difference in their growth.   Their differing responses remain a mystery as the two plants have been treated much the same.  And so when I came across a huge bargain on a beautiful pot large enough to hold their roots, I was left to choose which plant to move into the roomy new pot.

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This is the faster growing Alocasia on July 10.

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Which would you have chosen? 

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The second pot is also showing growth on July 10, but is coming along more slowly. A Zantedeschia shares the pot  These are all pups… notice there is no sign of new growth from last year’s stem.

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I chose to give the advantage to the plant which is lagging a bit behind its mate, in hopes of inspiring it to catch up and grow into its potential this year.

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The larger plant now rests between a stand of Canna lilies and a mass of Lantana in partial sun.  Its nursery pot is less noticeable, tucked among these larger plants, and its leaves are stretching up for their share of the sunlight.  A nursery pot isn’t beautiful, but it serves the purpose and the plant is happily growing.

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This pot of Alocasia usually rests among the plants in the background, but is pulled forward here to observe its growth.  It is doing very well and growing quickly, now that it is finally awake for the summer!

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The plant I repotted (out in the pouring rain, mind you) this morning  is showing growth around the neck of last year’s growth, but not yet from the neck.  I suppose that means that the original plant didn’t fare as well in storage, but is valiantly trying to survive through its pups.

As a bonus, there is a Zantedeschia from last summer’s pot that remained embedded in the Alocasia’s roots over winter.  It is awake and growing again, too.

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The new pot is resting, for the moment, at the base of our white crape myrtle tree near a grouping of Begonias and Caladiums.  I expect that we’ll move the pot to the upper garden next week when things dry out a bit.  It’s too heavy to move around on a whim, so I’ll want to make a good decision on where the plants will show to best advantage, and make the move once.  Partial sun, with some afternoon shade seems to work best for this Alocasia.

Who knows, maybe this spot will work out for the remainder of the season?

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These Colocasias also overwintered in a bag in the basement, and are growing well again. C. ‘Coffee Cups’ divides itself prolifically and sends out runners all season.  A. ‘Stingray’ is the only one of these plants I’ve not found growing again this year.

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A lot of gardening friends shy away from growing Caladiums, Alocasias and Colocasias because most of these plants aren’t hardy in our area.  Overwintering them is more of a challenge than they want to take on each autumn, and the alternative of losing them to the frost isn’t acceptable.  I can understand their caution.

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This is a single bulb of Caladium. ‘Florida Moonlight’ saved from last year’s garden.  It certainly is putting on a beautiful show in an 8″ ceramic pot.

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On the upside, these aroids are all easy to grow, require minimal care during the season, and aren’t grazed by rabbits or deer.  They divide themselves generously and are very adaptable to varying amounts of light.  Overwintering is a fairly easy thing to do and takes very little space.

I think it is a good investment of time and effort that pays a tremendous benefit in stunningly beautiful plants that grow better each year.

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A new Zantedeschia leaf emerges from a clump of Caladiums in the large pot by our front porch. Too bad it was already filled with these beauties when the Alocasia came up from the basement this spring….

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We were at Trader Joe’s last week when I spied another gorgeous Alocasia in a little quart sized pot, all wrapped up in pretty paper.  A good friend had just had her birthday, and I couldn’t resist bringing the sweet little Alocasia to her as a gift.  I’ve warned her, mind you, that like a little greyhound puppy, her ‘sweet little Alocasia‘ won’t stay small for long.  She is a gifted green handed gardener and I can’t wait to see how the Alocasia grows in her care!

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C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ must be stealing all the rays from C. ‘Desert Sunset,’ growing below it. This pot sits in a shady corner of the patio.  C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ is in its third season in our garden.

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If you want to grow an absolutely stunning potted arrangement that holds its beauty all season, you won’t go wrong by choosing any of these gorgeous aroids.  They may look exotic and difficult, but they are quite easy once you understand their needs for steady moisture, nutrition, filtered sun and frequent admiration.

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Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ is growing into a spectacular display alongside Zantedeschia. This photo was taken in early July, and all of the plants continue to sprout new leaves weekly.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Pot Shots: Breaking Dormancy

 

These tiny Alocasias grow from tubers stored in the basement over winter. Could they be A. ‘Stingray?

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It was with a fair amount of faith and a tad of skepticism that I pulled up some of my Colocasias and Alocasias last fall and stored them in the basement in paper grocery bags for the winter.  Some had been growing in the ground, and others in pots that I wanted to reuse with other plants, for winter.

All were likely to die if frost hit them.  So I did the best I could to save them.

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How many plants? I didn’t count…. But here are four grocery bags filled with Aroids to sleep through winter in the basement.

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 Some of the Colocasias, like C. ‘Pink China’ are reliably hardy in our climate.  I just leave them be when frost comes, knowing, now, that I can count on their return the following summer.

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Colocasia ‘Pink China’ return each summer here in Zone 7.

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But most are native in Zones 8, 9, 10 or 11 and so must be moved indoors before the first frost.  I searched online for advice on how to overwinter these very tender perennials.  Surprisingly, a number of writers suggested simply pulling the entire plant up, roots and soil still intact, and putting the entire root ball in a paper bag, to be stored in a basement or partially heated garage.

I found the two largest Alocasias in little pots at Trader Joes, in February of 2017 By October they had grown huge.  Each went into its own Trader Joe’s paper bag for the trip to our basement.

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This Alocasia, originally from Trader Joe’s, wasn’t labeled when I bought it last winter. It reminds me of A. ‘Regal Shields,’ but grows a bit larger.  I pulled the entire root ball from the pot, and stored it in the basement over winter.

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I am happy to report that both of them made it through winter stored in the rough, and have begun to show new growth.  I didn’t water them at all from November until moving them back outside in early May.   I potted them into plastic nursery pots, watered them well and set them aside to see whether they would live.  And now I am thrilled to see evidence of new growth on both plants.

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It’s alive!

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Aroids grow from tubers, and so can go completely dormant for some part of each year.  The size and shape of the tuber differs between the Caladium, Colocasia, Alocasia and Zantedeschia.  But all of these plants may be completely dried out and stored for some months, and then re-animated when good conditions for their growth return.

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From left: Caladium Burning Heart,’ Alocasia, and Zantedesichia ‘Memories’

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I have experimented with various ways of storing all of these tubers.  There is a balance to maintain; dormant tubers may rot if kept wet and cool.  I brought one of my Alocasias into the living room over winter.  It remained in active growth indoors, and I just moved it back outside in early June.

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This Alocasia ‘plumbea’ spent the winter indoors, with us and the cat.  It is large enough to need some support.  C. ‘Moonlight’ overwintered in the same pot.

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The Caladiums planted in the same pot went dormant over the winter, but are now in active growth again outside.  I watered this plant every week or so and gave it warmth and light.

A third Alocasia went into a dark spot in the garage.  I only watered it once or twice during its storage time, and it kept its leaves the entire winter.  When I moved it back outside, it didn’t miss a beat and immediately began sprouting new leaves.

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Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ came into the garage, dormant, with its Begonia companion. This plant has overwintered outside in 2015 and 2016.  I dug this one up and grew it on in the pot last summer.  I’ve already transplanted two starts from this pot to other spots in the garden.

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I moved six pots of Colocasias into the basement, near a window, and watered them occasionally.    Their leaves died back gradually, but many had begun to sprout new ones before I brought the pots back outside last month.  All are back in active growth once again.

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Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ spent winter in the rough in the basement.

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Of all the storage methods, I prefer keeping the plants in the house at normal room temperature and in growth.  But there is only so much room available for these very large plants.

Bringing the largest pots into the house is impractical.  The most radical method, paper bag dry storage, also requires the most recovery time for the plant to send up new growth again.  But it works to keep the plant alive.  I kept the root balls intact over winter.  If I do this again, I may try drying out the Colocasia or Alocasia tuber and storing it dry,  just as I do for the Caladiums and Zantedeschias.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ remained in its pot in the basement, keeping some of its leaves until early spring.  A Zantedeschia shares the pot.

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Of course, the wild card with all of these methods is the timing.  When do you replant and reanimate the tubers?

I started our stored Caladiums in March, but with a cool spring, had to hold them indoors for several weeks longer than I would like.   I started the Zantedeschias at about the same time, but they aren’t as tender and could go back outside much earlier.  Many of our Zantedeschias stay outside in the garden year round, growing larger and lusher each year.

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Zantedeschia ‘Memories’ came in the mail as a tuber in early April.

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I bought a dormant Alocasia tuber this spring, potted it indoors, and am happy to show you that it is growing beautifully and bulking up.  It was completely dry, rootless, and fit in the palm of my hand in March.

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Alocasia grown from a tuber from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond … I just don’t remember the cultivar name…

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Colocasia ‘Black Coral’  came to the garden as a tiny tissue culture plant from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.  Every new leaf grows on a longer petiole than the one before.

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Once they are outside in the heat, tropical Aroids grow very quickly.  C. ‘Black Coral’ is rated hardy in Zone 7, so I could probably rely on it surviving our winter outdoors.

The Alocasias that haven’t yet reappeared are the ‘Stingray.’  I am still waiting for them to emerge. . . or for me to identify them again from the still emerging Aroids.

And we will happily welcome them to the summer garden once they finally turn up.

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Alocasia ‘Stingray’ thrive in heat and humidity. These tropical plants help filter the air and trap carbon with their huge leaves.  Here in September 2017

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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C. ‘Black Magic’ was transplanted yesterday into its summer pot with Sedum ‘Angelina’.

 

 

Fabulous Friday: It Lived!

Our figs lived through this long and very cold winter.

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We’ve been watching the fig trees daily for signs of life.  Yes, along with the joy and excitement of spring, there is a fair degree of anxiety, for some of us, about what survived the winter and what did not.  As I chat with gardening friends, the topic of what has survived and what is not in leaf comes up again and again, these days.

That anxiety and expectation has been preoccupying me this week as I tour the garden expectantly between attempts at unpacking our basement and garage.  What am I unpacking, you might wonder? 

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Athyrium niponicum ‘Applecourt’ has leafed out this month, and the hardy Begonias have begun to emerge and grow.  It is always a relief to see their small red leaves appear each spring.  Newly planted Caladiums will soon open their first leaves, too.

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In those last warmish weeks of late October and early November, we moved as many of our tender perennials as we could into the basement and the garage.  It has been a horticultural Noah’s Ark these past months as the survivors have huddled together in the relative security of these all too dim spaces, waiting for spring.

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Colacasia ‘Mojito’s’ tubers were stored over winter in the basement, and have come back to the garden today.

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And now that it is clearly spring, we have been bringing them back out into the light, watering and grooming each pot and basket, and allowing them to rest a while in the shade on the way to their summer homes.  There is an urgency about bringing these brave survivor plants back out into the life-giving warmth and light of early summer, and looking for signs of life.

Dormancy, for a plant, can fool you.  The plant may look completely dead; bare branches, bare soil, brown slimy leaves.  The whole ugly mess… may still harbor life in the roots and branches.  Pitch it too soon, and you have lost a beautiful plant.  Wait too long, and the plant’s life force may expire.

Sad to admit, but I have erred a few times on the side of impatience when I should have just waited a bit longer for a plant to awaken into new growth.

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There is the matter of the Colocasias and Alocasias I stuffed into grocery bags last autumn and stowed in the basement.  To be honest with you, I didn’t want to lift and carry their generous pots to the basement.  And so I followed the odd advice I found somewhere on the internet to store their root balls in paper bags.  Given the choice between further hurting my back, losing my beautiful plants, or trusting the anonymous but reasonable advice…. I took the chance with the grocery bags.

Miraculously, there was a vivid green leaf of Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ bravely waving at me from above the crusty brown rim of the bag in February.  But it was still too cold to repot them, then, and I’ve procrastinated on this task since things warmed up in late April.  When I went to retrieve them this afternoon there was nothing green or promising about the mess waiting for me in the bags.

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But I soldiered on and lugged them up from the basement and out to my work area, where I managed to beat and coax and squeeze their rigid root balls of the two largest plants into 5 gallon plastic pots.  After a thorough watering, I’ve set the pots aside in a warm bright spot to see whether my plants will resurrect themselves from their dormant tubers.

There were a dozen smaller tubers, still attached to the desiccated leaves of other plants rescued last autumn.  I’ve trimmed and planted them into waiting pots and I will hope to see their leaves emerge by June.

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The Afghan fig F. ‘Silver Lyre’ returns from its roots each May.  Rarely, leaves will emerge from buds on last year’s stems.

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And my beautiful reward for all of the effort today came on my last tour of the garden this afternoon:  fig leaves!  Our figs are finally awakening, trusting that the summer weather is settling in at last.  Their buds are opening up and leaves unfurling on the branches even as new sprouts emerge from the soil.

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One by one, our winter dormant plants are springing back to life and growth.  We’re still waiting for a few woodies, like those olive trees that overwintered on the patio because I couldn’t lug their huge pots indoors.  There is still green wood just beneath their thin bark, and so I’ve not yet given up.

Hope fuels us gardeners.  And the smallest green leaf emerging from a brown and wrinkled stem can make all of that patience and effort worthwhile.

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Woodland Gnome  2018

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Iris ‘Strange Rites’

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious! 

Let’s infect one another.

Green Thumb Tip #13: Breaching Your Zone

It is time to save our favorite Alocasia before our first freeze of the season, tonight.

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We expect frost tonight, the first of the season.   In fact, the forecast suggests that we may have temperatures in the 20s overnight; the result of an approaching cold front and gusty winds from the north all day.

We can’t complain.  Here in Zone 7, we know that frost is possible any time from October 15 on.  We’ve escaped the inevitable for nearly an extra month, and tonight is the night.

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Alocosia ‘Stingray’ in August, with Begonia ‘Griffin’ behind.  Both came inside today for the winter.

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Bringing tender plants in for winter remains one of our annual rituals here in our forest garden.   We procrastinate as long as possible, to give the plants every day possible out in the air and sunshine.   We’ve found that even tender tropicals will survive a few nights in the 40s better than a few days in the garage, and so have learned to wait until we are sure that we have a freeze warning before we gather them back indoors.  Moving them back and forth several times over our long fall really isn’t practical; we wait for the last possible moment to commit.

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Colocasia ‘Mohito’ is marginally hardy in our area. I couldn’t lift this pot, but brought all of the divisions of the plant indoors today.

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Preparations for the ‘great migration’ included doing a little homework to refresh my memory about the lowest temperatures some of our plants can tolerate, before they turn to mush.  Nearly all of our Begonias won’t tolerate any freezing at all.  The hardy ones are mostly dormant, already.

But the Aroids, the Alocasias and Colocasias, have different degrees of cold tolerance.  Unlike Caladiums, which like to stay cozy at 50F or above, some Colocasias remain hardy to Zone 6.

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Colocasia ‘Pink China’ has proven hardy in our garden. It spreads a little more each year and grows lush and reliable from May until November. I expect to find this whole stand knocked down by frost when we come out tomorrow morning.

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When we talk about  USDA agricultural zones, there are three variables in play; all very important for which plants you may grow.  First, dates of first and last frost are pretty standard across a given Zone.  For example, here in Zone 7, we expect our first frost around October 15, and our last freeze around April 15.  That gives us a solid six months of outdoor growing season, which means we can raise lots of different sorts of crops in our zone.  There is sufficient time for a plant to develop, bloom, and ripen fruit.  A few miles to the southeast, nearer the Atlantic, Zone 8 begins.  Zone 8 has later first frosts (November 15) and earlier last frosts (March 15).

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Colocasia have runners, and each runner will create a new little plant. These special stems run just at ground level. This is how a dense stand develops from a single plant. Were you to visit my garden, I’d offer you as many of these little Colocasia plants as you would take!

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So knowing your Zone (updated in 2012,) not only tells you how many weeks of the year you have a 50% chance or greater of having freezing temperatures, at least overnight; it also tells you how cold those temperatures may go.   Here in Zone 7b, we may experience a low between 5F-10F.  Most winters we never drop below the teens, here, but it is possible.  Zone 8 may have temperatures down to 10F, but Zone 9 wouldn’t expect temperatures to drop below 20F.

Knowing this helps me make choices about what to bring inside, where  to keep overwintering plants, and what to take a chance on leaving outside until spring.  When space is limited, hard choices must be made if one wants to share the house with the plants for the next six months!

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ is hardy to Zone 7b. I still brought many of these plants in to hedge my bets, since we are right on the edge….

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If a plant is hardy to Zone 8, we sometimes have success keeping it outdoors when we provide mulch or significant shelter.  In a mild winter, we may not dip below 10F to begin with.   Plants with deep roots may be mulched, or may have a little shelter built around it with most anything that will trap and hold heat on those few cold nights.  Our patio is a great place to offer potted plants shelter through the winter.  It offers shelter from the wind, and also absorbs and holds a bit of heat on sunny days.

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A plant rated to Zone 9 or 10 will definitely need to come indoors in our area.  But because Aroids have a dormant period over winter, we can keep them in our low light but frost free basement.

As Colocasias and Alocasias grow more popular, enthusiasts are left deciding whether to try to save them for another season, or whether to start next season with fresh plants.   Sometimes space determines our choices, other times our budget.  That said, I’ve found four ways to keep these beautiful plants from one season to the next.

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Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ is hardy to Zone 8. We were fortunate to have one overwinter in a protected area, and this is an off-set I dug up in August to grow on. It is now safely tucked into our garage for the winter.

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I found two of our most spectacular Alocasias back in February, at Trader Joe’s.  They were right inside the door, with a few other pots of ‘tropical’ plants.  Because I recognized their leaf, I bought two, intending to use them in large pots to frame our front door all summer.  What came home in a 4″ pot, grew over summer into a huge and beautiful plant.  I learned today that their roots had completely filled the 20″ pots they have grown in since early May.

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This Alocasia, originally from Trader Joe’s, wasn’t labeled when I bought it last winter. It reminds me of A. ‘Regal Shields,’ but grows a bit larger.

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I can barely slide those pots when they are well-watered.  And, I plan to re-plant them for winter interest.  There was no question of trying to move them into our home or garage to overwinter the plants.

But last night I did my homework, and spent a while searching out how others have managed to overwinter large Alocasias.  Since the plant goes dormant, it can be kept, barely moist, out of its pot in a frost free basement or garage.    So I pried each of my beautiful Alocasias  out of their pots this morning, and lowered each, root ball intact, into a large paper grocery bag.  I’ve set the bags into shallow plastic storage boxes in our basement.  The leaves will wither; the soil will dry.  But life will remain in the plant, and I can pot it up again in spring for it to continue growing.

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How many plants? I didn’t count…. But here are four grocery bags filled with Aroids to sleep through winter in the basement.

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I decided to hedge my bets again this winter by storing our Aroids in a variety of ways.  While I’ve brought a few indoors in smaller pots to either keep growing in our living room, or slowly go dormant in our garage or basement; a great many got yanked from their pots this morning and stuffed into grocery bags.  Now the Alocasias will mingle for the next few months with A. ‘Stingray,’ C. ‘Mohito’, and C. ‘Tea Cups.’

C. ‘Tea Cups’ is supposed to be hardy in Zone 7.  Actually, we had one overwinter in a very large pot last year, but it was slow to emerge and never grew with much vigor over summer.  So again, I hedged my bets.

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A. ‘Stingray’ came home in a 4′ pot this spring. It has grown prodigiously, and there were several small off-sets. I pried these out of the wet soil, and am storing them in the grocery bags for winter.

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Remember, all of these plants create off-sets.  So, I left a few plants growing in the circular bed we began in spring.  But I pulled up enough to replant the bed next spring, if those don’t survive winter for whatever reason.  I have a few C. ‘Tea Cups’ overwintering in moist soil in pots, and others set to go dormant in paper grocery bags.

The very small divisions of Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ that I potted up in late summer came in to the living area in their pots, along with  A. ‘Sarian’ and a few A. ‘Amazonica‘.   I can give them window-sill space and keep them growing.  Even if you don’t have space to keep the largest of your Aroids, chances are good that there will be a small off-set that you can save over winter.

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For plants like Begonias and Brugmansias, which don’t create off-sets, consider taking cuttings if you need to conserve space. If you don’t have room for the whole pot or basket, cut a few vigorous branches to root in a vase or jar near a window.

Cuttings placed in water now will root, and may be potted up in early spring.  I always have Begonia cuttings rooting in vases of water, but I brought a few more cuttings in today.  We just have too many pots of Begonias to save them all.  But I am careful to save some of each variety.  Because plants like Begonias root so easily in water,  once you have a variety, you can keep it going indefinitely.

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Many, many plants will root in water.  I’ve experimented over the years with keeping many genus of plants going, because the nursery trade just isn’t that dependable when there is a particular variety you want to buy in spring.   Maybe you’ll find it, but maybe its shelf space will be given over to something newer or more fashionable, and your favored cultivar just won’t be available in your area.

My friends know that even if I had a good sized greenhouse, I’d soon fill it to the rafters like some botanical Noah’s Ark.  As it is, our living space is filled, once again, with my coterie of plants.  My partner is blessedly patient with my horticultural obsessions.

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Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ is an angel wing Begonia which performs well in a hanging basket.  A perennial in Zone 10,  you can overwinter it in its pot, or as a cutting.

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There is no shame in letting ‘annuals’ perish when winter finally blows into your garden.  But your Zone doesn’t have to limit what you can grow, and winter doesn’t have to destroy your beautiful collection of plants.

Master a few handy hacks, and you can keep your favorite warm-weather plants growing (and multiplying) indefinitely.

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A. ‘Amazonica’, also known as ‘African Mask’, grows vigorously in a large pot. I’ve kept this pot going for several years by letting it over winter in our living room..

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Woodland Gnome 2017
“Green Thumb” Tips: 
Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

Green Thumb Tip # 10 Understand the Rhythm

Green Thumb Tip # 11:  The Perennial Philosophy

Green Thumb Tip #12: Grow More of That! 

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

Leaf III: Decoration

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Unusual leaves bring great energy and interest to our garden.  Caladiums, like this C. ‘Gingerland’ offer a long lasting, bold accent in sun to partial shade.  Each leaf is unique, painted in clear bright color across its graceful, undulating form.

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A pot filled with Caladiums can be stunning.  But mix Caladiums with ferns, vines or annuals for uniquely interesting arrangements.  ‘Gingerland’ was our first Caladium in leaf this year from the new batch ordered in April.

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Caladiums also mix well with other Aroids, like Alocasia ‘Stingray.’  Their cultural needs are similar.  These C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ overwintered together with the Alocasia in their pot in our garage.  Heavy feeders, the more generous you can be with water and fertilizer, the larger and more lush they will grow.

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Newer Caladium varieties can take more sun than you might imagine.  I had this pot of C. ‘Moonlight’ and C. ‘Desert Sunset’ in partial sun until our recent spell of hot, dry weather.  It is photographed here in deep shade, a temporary resting spot until the weather moderates.

We enjoy the beacon like effect of these luminous white leaves shining from a shady spot in the garden.

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Alocasia ‘Frydek’

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Alocasia have just appeared on the market in recent years.  This unusual tropical plant also grows from a tuber.  One of the first commonly available was Alocasia micholitziana.  A widely marketed cultivar is known as A. ‘Frydek’ or ‘African Mask’ or Alocasia Polly.

These ‘elephant ears’  are often sold as house plants, and do well in normal indoor conditions year round.  Sometimes they will go dormant and appear to die back.  Just be patient and keep the soil a little moist.  You will usually be rewarded with new leaves in a few weeks.

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Alocasia are long-lived plants, which grow larger each season.  They enjoy a partially sunny spot in our summer garden.  Their deep green, substantial leaves last for months at a time.   Bring them indoors in winter, if only to a garage or basement, and you will be rewarded with additional years of beauty.

There are many new types of Alocasia on the market these days.  In addition to A. ‘Frydek’ and A. ‘Stingray,’ we also grow A. ‘Plumbea’ and A. ‘Sarian.’  

I recognized some plants at our local Trader Joe’s as unnamed Alocasia back in February, and bought two.  We kept them going in the dining room until it warmed enough to move them outdoors this spring.  they have put out prodigious growth and their leaves are now about 18″ long, each.

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Begonia Rex with fern

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Another genus with unusual and beautiful leaves, Begonia, also thrives in our summer garden.  Tropical, most varieties of Begonia enjoy heat and humidity.  Although they often pump out delicate flowers all summer long, we growth them mostly for their outrageous leaves.

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Cane Begonia

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Although not as large as Caladium or Alocasia leaves, some Begonia varieties have large, extravagantly marked and highly textured leaves.  B. ‘Gryphon’ appeared in local shops perhaps six years ago.  It will grow quite large by the end of summer, and the plants keep well from year to year.

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A newly unfolding leaf on B. Gryphon.  The red fades to a more even green as each leaf matures, though the stems remain red.

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B. ‘Gryphon’ can be propagated from stem or leaf petiole cuttings.  Simply stick a section of the trunk into a pot of moist soil, and wait.  I generally use a little rooting hormone on the cut end of the stem.  The stem will root in moist soil, with new growth appearing in just a few weeks in summer.  I overwintered a stem cutting in our garage last winter, and new growth appeared a few weeks after we put it outside this spring.

B. ‘Gryphon’ is grown for its beautiful leaves and tropical form.  It will eventually produce some small flowers in its second or third year.

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Begonia Rex come in hundreds of varieties.  Their leaves are beautifully patterned.  I’m seeing these offered at big box stores in spring along with annuals and other shade perennials.  Although perennial, they are tender and won’t survive freezing temperatures outdoors.  I normally grow these in pots to keep from year to year.

They grow from rhizomes, and may appear to ‘die’ at times.  Often, the plant has gone dormant due to stress, and will begin to produce leaves again if given minimal care and warmth.

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Begonias can be heavy feeders.  They like their soil to dry out a little before you water again, and thrive in bright shade.  They enjoy the humidity when placed under trees in our summer garden.

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Begonia

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Unusual and colorful leaves keep a garden fresh and fun.  Ours have the garden looking Fabulous this Friday!

Whether you have one wonderful pot of Caladiums, or a garden filled with striking foliage, you will soon be hooked.

When you realize how easy and resilient these plants can be for you to grow, and how long-lived and tough these tropical beauties become;  you may soon will find yourself collecting them, too.

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Unusual

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, Let’s infect one another!

 

Leaf II: Celebration

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Caladiums speak to me of celebration.  They remain bright and colorful, full of beautiful surprises as each new leaf unfolds to unveil its own unique patterns and colors.

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Hot and humid summer days bring out the best in Caladiums.  Their leaves grow enormous, especially after summer rainstorms leave their soil warm and moist.  Near 100% humidity and languid summer breezes set them slow dancing with one another.  I give them an occasional cocktail of seaweed and fish emulsion to keep them perky and growing strong.

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A garden filled with beautiful foliage needs few flowers.  Each year we give more and more garden space to Caladiums, and their Aroid cousins Colocasias and Alocasias while growing fewer high-maintenance flowers.  However beautiful, flowers soon fade and must be cut away.  I love flowers, and yet don’t love the deadheading required for most, to keep them coming over a long season and their bed tidy.

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Colocasia ‘Majito’ grows in its new blue  pot on the left, and Alocasia ‘Stingray’ is just getting started in its pot on the right. Both will grow to a statuesque 4′-6′ tall be summer’s end.   A red coleus grows to the far left, and some red flowered annual Verbena is beginning to fill in beneath the foliage plants.  Colocasia prefers very moist soil, so I often stand its pot in a saucer to hold water.

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I have always loved to celebrate the joy and beauty of summer.  It is a time for getting together with family and friends, for travel, for long hours on the beach, for cook-outs and for celebrating life.  Caladiums in the garden set the stage for celebration, while asking precious little from the gardener in return, to keep them beautiful well into fall.

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There is still plenty of time for many of us to plant Caladiums for this summer. Garden centers around here still have a good selection of Caladiums already growing in pots, and many of them can be found on the summer sales.  But if you want to order a special variety, the tubers will need only a few weeks to establish and grow leaves once you plant them.

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You can still order the tubers of your choice from Florida growers, get them quickly, and have your Caladiums in leaf by mid-August.  They will grow beautifully in your garden until frost, and then you can keep the tubers to start again early next spring.

Let’s keep the celebration going as long as we can.

Woodland Gnome 2017

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In this new series, “Leaf,” I will share some of our favorite foliage plants.  Summer is prime time for big, bold, dramatic leaves.  I hope you enjoy seeing our favorites.  
Leaf I:  Illumination

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Slow to Grow: Elephant Ears

Colocasia esculenta

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It has been agonizingly slow this spring, watching and waiting for our elephant ears to grow.  I blame the weather.  Wouldn’t you?

After all, we enjoyed 80F days in February, and then retreated back to wintery grey days through most of March.  We’ve been on a climatic roller-coaster since.

Gardeners, and our plants, appreciate a smooth transition from one season to another.  Let it be cold in winter, then warm gradually through early, mid and late spring until we enjoy a few weeks of perfect summer in late May and early June.  We know to expect heat in June, July and August, with moderating temperatures and humidity by mid-September.

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I started working on this new bed in March, bringing the still potted Colocasias in doors and back out with the weather. Although I planted them weeks ago, they are still sulking a bit in our cool, rainy weather this month.

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But lately, our seasons feel rather muddled.  That smooth crescendo from season to season has gone all rag-time on us.  We’ve already lost a potted Hydrangea Macrophylla teased into leaf too early, and then frozen a time too many.  Those early leaves dissolved in mush, but new growth started again from the crown.

I’ve watched the poor shrub try at least 3 times to grow this spring, and now it sits, bare, in its pot while I hold out hope for either a horticultural miracle, or a clone on sale; whichever comes first.

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Colocasia ‘Pink China’ loves our climate and spreads a bit each year. Its pink spot and pink stem inspired its name. This is the Colocasia I happily dig up to share with gardening friends. These will be a little more than 5′ tall by late summer.

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I hedged my bets last fall with the elephant ears.  I left some in situ in the garden, some in their pots, but pulled up close to the house on the patio, and I brought a few pots of Alocasia and Colocasia into our basement or garage.

I dug most of our Caladiums and dried them for several weeks in the garage, and then boxed and bagged them with rice hulls before storing them in a closet through the winter.  I left a few special ones in their pots and kept the pots in our sunny garage.

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Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’ overwintered for us  dried and stored in a box with rice hulls. I planted the tuber again in early April.

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And I waited until April before trying to rouse any of them.  But by early April, while I was organizing a Caladium order for 2017, I also planted all of those stored Caladium tubers in fresh potting soil and set them in our guest room to grow.  Eventually, after our last frost date in mid-April, I also retrieved the pots from the basement and brought them out to the warmth of our patio.  They all got a drink of Neptune’s Harvest and a chance to awaken for summer.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset,’ didn’t survive winter in our garage. (This photo from summer 2016)  I left them in their pot, but it must have gotten too cold for them.  Happily, I ordered new tubers this spring.

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Around this time I gingerly began to feel around in those Caladium pots kept in the garage, for signs of life.  I thought I’d divide and replant the tubers and get them going again.  But, to my great disappointment, not a single tuber survived.   The Caladiums succumbed to the chill of our garage sometime during the winter, and I had three generous sized, empty pots to recycle with fresh plantings.

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C. ‘Desert Sunset’ didn’t make it through the winter, so I’ve recycled the pot for other plants. Calla lily has a form similar to some Alocasia, and is more tolerant of cold weather. These are hardy in Zone 7.

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By the time our new Caladium order arrived in mid- April, the tubers I’d dried, stored, and replanted were in growth.  I moved them to the garage to get more light and actually planted the first batch of Caladiums outside by the first week of May.

I planted most of the new Caladiums into potting soil filled boxes and sent them off to the guest room to awaken, but chanced planting a few bare tubers into pots outside.  Mistake.

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These saved Caladiums, started indoors in April, moved outside to their permanent bed in early May. Still a little slow to grow, they have weathered a few cool  nights this month.

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Because for all the promising balmy days we’ve had this spring, we’ve had our share of dreary cool ones, too.  We even had a few nights in the 40s earlier this month!  It’s generally safe here to plant out tomatoes, Basil and Caladiums by mid-May.  Sadly, this year, these heat lovers have been left stunted by the late cool weather.

The new Caladium tubers planted indoors are still mostly sulking, too, with little to show for themselves.  The ones I planted directly outside in pots remain invisible.  I just hope they didn’t rot in our cool, rainy weather.

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Colocasia ‘Black Coral,’ started in a greenhouse this spring, has been growing outdoors for nearly a month now. This one can get to more than 4′ tall in full sun to part shade.

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Of the saved Colocasias and Alocasias, C. ‘Mohito’ has done the best.   I brought a large pot of them into the basement last fall, and knocked the plant out of its pot when I brought it back outdoors in April.   I divided the tubers and ended up with several plants.  They are all growing nicely, though they are still rather small.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ has been in the family a few years now. It overwinters, dormant in its pot, in our basement. This is one of 5 divisions I made at re-potting time this spring.

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I dug up our large C. ‘Tea Cups’ in October and brought it indoors in a pot, leaving behind its runners.  The main plant began vigorous growth again by late April, but none of the runners seem to have made it through the winter outdoors.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ also overwintered in the basement.  New last year, this plant has really taken off in the last few weeks and is many times larger than our new C. ‘Tea Cups’ plants.  It catches rain in its concave leaves, thus its name.

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I brought one of our Alocasia ‘Stingray’ into the garage in its pot, where it continued to grow until after Christmas.  By then the last leaf withered, and it remained dormant until we brought it back out in April.  It has made tiny new leaves ever so slowly, and those new leaves remain less than 6″ tall.

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Alocasia ‘Sting Ray’ spent winter in our garage.  It has been very slow to grow this spring, but already has many more leaves than last year.  It will eventually grow to about 6′.  Zone 8-11

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But that is better than the potted A. ‘Stingray‘ that overwintered on the patio.  We’ve been watching and waiting all spring, and I finally gave up and dug through the potting soil last week looking for any sign of the tuber.  I found nothing.

But, fearing the worst, we already bought two new A. ‘Stingray’ from the bulb shop in Gloucester in early May, and those are growing vigorously.   They enjoyed the greenhouse treatment through our sulky spring, of course.

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Our new A. ‘Stingray’ grows in the blue pot in front of where another A. ‘Stingray’ grew last year. I left the black pot out on the patio over winter, and the Alocasia hasn’t returned. I finally planted some of our new Caladiums in the empty pot last week.

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I have two more pots of Alocasia in que:  A. ‘Plumbea’ has shown two tiny leaves thus far, so I know it is alive.  A. ‘Sarian’ has slept in the sun for weeks now, its tuber still visible and firm.  Finally, just over this weekend, the first tiny leaf has appeared.  I expect it to grow into an even more  beautiful plant than last summer since.  It came to us in a tiny 4″ pot, and ended summer at around 5′ tall.  I can’t wait to see how large it grows by August!

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’ isn’t’ available for order from Brent and Becky’s bulbs this year. I am very happy this one survived winter, because it is a beautiful plant.  Hardy in zones 3-10, this will grow to 5′.

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But the pot of Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii,’ that overwintered on the patio, has shown nothing so far, either.  Hardy to Zone 8, I hoped the shelter of our patio might allow this two year old plant to survive.  Now, I’m about ready to refresh the soil and fill that pot with some of the Caladiums still growing in our garage.

C. ‘Blue Hawaii’ is marginal here.  A few have survived past winters planted in the ground; but thus far, I’m not recognizing any coming back in the garden this year.

I’ve planted a few C. ‘Mojito’ in the ground this spring, and plan to leave them in the fall to see whether they return next year.  But I will also hedge my bet and bring a potted C. ‘Mojito’ inside again so I’ll have plants to begin with next spring.

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C. ‘Mojito’ in our bog garden will soon get potted up to a larger container.  I planted a few of the smaller divisions of this plant directly into the ground to see if they will survive the winter coming. (Zone 8)

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Every year I learn a little more about growing elephant ears.  I know now that Colocasia ‘China Pink’ is vigorous and dependable in our garden.  There is no worry about them making it through winter, and I dig and spread those a bit each year.

The huge Colocasia esculenta I planted a few years ago with our Cannas dependably return.  These are the species, not a fancy cultivar.  But they seem to manage fine with nothing more than some fallen leaves for mulch.

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These gorgeous tropical elephant ears put on a great show for four to six months each year in our zone.  Deer and rabbits don’t touch them, and they rarely have any problem with insects or disease.   Our muggy, hot summers suit them fine.  They love, and need, heat to thrive.

Any temperate zone gardener who wants to grow them, needs to also plan for their winter dormancy.  And each plant’s needs are unique.  Some Colocasia might be hardy north to Zone 6.  A few Alocasia cultivars are hardy to zone 7b or 8, but most require zone 9 to remain outdoors in the winter.  Caladiums want a lot more warmth, and prefer Zone 10.  Caladiums can rot in wet soil below 60F.

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Hardy Begonias are naturalizing in this lively bed transitioning to summer.  I planted the Caladiums about a month ago, and they have slowly begun to grow.  See also fading daffodil leaves, Japanese painted ferns, Arum Italicum, and creeping Jenny.

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If you don’t have space to store elephant ears over winter, you can still grow them as annuals, of course.    That requires a bit of an investment if you like them a lot, and want to fill your garden!

My favorite source for Colocasia and Alocasia elephant ears, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs,  has put all of their summer bulbs, including Caladium tubers,  on clearance now through Monday, June 5.   This is a good time to try something new, if you’re curious about how these beautiful plants would perform in your own garden, because all these plants are half off their usual price.  The Colocasia and Alocasia plants they’re selling now come straight to you from their greenhouses.

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Alocasia ‘Sarian’ emerged over the weekend. This is a very welcome sight!

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I order our Caladiums direct from the grower at Classic Caladiums in Avon Park, Florida (see below).  There is still plenty of time for you to grow these from tubers this summer, as long as your summer nights will be mostly above 60F for a couple of months.  Potted Caladiums make nice houseplants, too, when autumn chills return.  (Brent and Becky’s Bulbs buy their Caladiums from Classic Caladiums, too.  You will find a much larger selection when you buy direct from the grower.  Classic Caladiums sells to both wholesale and retail customers.)

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Slow to grow, this year, but so worth the wait.  We are always fascinated while watching our elephant ears grow each year, filling our garden with their huge, luscious leaves.  Once they get growing, they grow so fast you can see the difference sometimes from morning to afternoon!

Our summer officially begins today.  Now we can settle in to watch the annual spectacle unfold.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Is your region too cool for tropical Elephant Ears? Get a similar effect with rhubarb. This rhubarb ‘Victoria,’ in its second year, emerges in early spring. Leaves have the same basic size and shape as Alocasia leaves without the shiny texture. There are a number of ornamental rhubarbs available, some of them quite large.  These are easy to grow,  perennial north into Canada, and grow into a beautiful focal point in the garden.

High Water and Hurricane Lilies

September 3, 2016 014

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The storm, Hermine, still spins off the coast making her way, slowly and majestically, towards the northeast.  Now off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and back over open water, she gathers strength even as she loses speed.

Her winds are up, her pressure down, and she generously keeps sending rain showers our way.

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September 3, 2016 026

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The folks on-air at the Weather Channel obviously aren’t allowed to use the ‘H’ word anymore.  They call her a ‘Post-Tropical Cyclone.’  But we know the truth.  Her winds are back up to a sustained 70 mph and her pressure is down to 29.38 inches.  That sounds like a hurricane to me.

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The James River is well out of its banks here near Jamestown.

The James River is well out of its banks here near Jamestown.

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I’m thinking of loved ones on the ‘Eastern Shore’ of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.  They pretty much sit on a little peninsula out in the Atlantic Ocean, well out of site of the mainland.

It must feel very lonely out there when a hurricane is knocking at the door.  And this one brought an overnight bag; it may spin off their coast between now and Wednesday or Thursday!

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College Creek

College Creek

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We’re far enough inland to have benefited from the rain but not had problems caused by the winds.  Our streets, wet and covered with pine tags and fallen leaves, are blessedly clear.  The few branches we’ve cleared were all small enough to pick up and toss with one hand.

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September 3, 2016 022

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But the creeks and rivers have spilled out of their banks.  All the marshes and ditches filled and overflowing from the storm surge, reflect our low grey sky.  Flocks of birds gather and fly in great arcs above the wetlands.

They feel the change in the air, as do we, and have gathered to prepare for their autumn journeys.

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September 3, 2016 rain 003

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Our rain came last night, soon after dusk.  Quiet and gentle at first, we had to listen carefully to know it had begun.  It rained all night, giving life back to our desiccated  garden; and we awoke to a newly greened and wonderfully  wet world.

Plants which I thought were dried and finished plumped up and revived themselves overnight.

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September 3, 2016 010~

This slow, gentle rain has soaked in instead of running off.  The soil is soaking it in, channeling it down, down, to the reservoirs below.

There is nothing like a prolonged drought to remind us that water is the life’s blood of every living thing.  It is that magical, precious substance which animates and sustains us all.

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Alocasia 'Sarian' grows happily here in a pot filled with Coleus.

Alocasia ‘Sarian’ grows happily here in a pot filled with Coleus.

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The ‘Hurricane Lily,’ or ‘Spider Flower’ got its name when gardeners recognized that its bloom comes on only after a heavy late summer rain.  A long dry hot spell, followed by a heavy rain, such as a tropical storm might bring, triggers growth in this unusual bulb.

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September 2, 2016 hurricane lily 003

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Its flowers come first in late August or September.  Carried on tall bare stems, this flower is another of the lilies commonly knows as ‘Naked Ladies.’  Long, thin Liriope like leaves will emerge in several weeks, growing through autumn and into the winter.

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Even a damp and bedraggled Ginger Lily still smells sweetly.

Even a damp and bedraggled Ginger Lily still smells sweetly.

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My intense watering, these last few weeks, of the roses and Ginger Lilies growing near our bulbs triggered their early blooming.

They didn’t wait for the hurricane to pass before they bloomed.

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September 2, 2016 York River 001

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Now, if you want to order a few bulbs for yourself, please search for ‘Lycoris radiata,’ not ‘Naked Ladies,’ as a friend told me he recently did.  There are several lilies from bulbs which bloom either before or after their leaves appear, and so have earned this descriptive moniker.  My friend suggested that his returns on the search were more interesting than he expected.  And I promised to email a link to him for ordering some bulbs….

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September 2, 2016 hurricane lily 005

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We’ve now enjoyed 20 hours of nearly steady rain, with more to come.  The air smells fresh and the breeze is cool.

We are quite satisfied with Hermine’s brief visit.  And we wish her well and hope she moves on out to sea, sparing our neighbors to the north any ill effects from her passing.

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September 3, 2016 rain 001

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Mirror

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September 2, 2016 hurricane lily 007

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

 

 

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #7: Experiment!

July 27, 2016 morning garden 019

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A sense of curiosity and wonder drive ‘normal people’ to transform themselves into dedicated gardeners.  We take pleasure in watching how plants grow.  Now, that isn’t a punch-line; it is a confession …

When I learn about a new plant, or a new (to me) cultivar of a more common plant; I often want to grow it myself to watch the process of is unfolding.  And I generally want to grow several in differing conditions to learn for myself how it performs, what makes thrive, and what it needs to look its best.  But most importantly, I’m curious whether I’ll like the plant; whether it is worth my investment of time and energy to grow in our garden.

We ‘click’ with some plants and dislike others.  It’s human nature.  But it’s hard to learn what we like and glimpse new possibilities for our garden space unless we are willing to take a chance growing new plants.  We learn much of what we know as gardeners through experimentation.

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Echinacea 'Green Envy,' which we planted for the first time last summer. All three plants returned and are doing well this summer.

Echinacea ‘Green Jewel,’ which we planted for the first time last July.  All three plants returned and are doing well this summer.

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Saying we’re “Watching the grass grow” is a joke simply because grass is both predictable and inevitable.  Why would we watch something like that?  We all pretty much understand grass.

Yet many good gardeners love it and can deliver a long monologue on which types are best and how to properly care for a healthy lawn.  That is their thing. 

Others of us delight with each patch of grass/weeds we convert into a bed for more beautiful plants….  And still other gardeners love growing the new cultivars of ornamental grasses coming to market each year.  They take pleasure in watching the wind set their Miscanthus and Carex dancing in the changing light.  But how will we ever take pleasure in the beauty of Carex mixing among other perennials, unless we are willing to experiment with planting a few?

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Colocasia esculenta in its third summer has grown much larger than I expected. This wasn't sold as 'Thailand Giant,' but I'm beginning to wonder.....

Colocasia esculenta in its third summer has grown much larger than I expected. This wasn’t sold as ‘Thailand Giant,’ but I’m beginning to wonder…..

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Many frustrated gardeners who boast of their ‘brown thumb’ may be growing the wrong plants.  They may not feel confident in buying plants they haven’t already seen neighbors and friends growing in their gardens.  Or maybe they are growing familiar plants in the wrong conditions or with inconsistent care.  A more pleasing garden will result when they begin to experiment with fresh ways of doing things.

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This experimental raised bed is bordered with hypertufa planters and planted with a combination of hardy Begonia and ferns, with a few Caladiums planted each spring.

This experimental raised bed is bordered with hypertufa planters and planted with a combination of hardy Begonia, Hellebores and ferns, with a few Caladiums planted each spring.

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Experiments help us learn.  We observe more closely.  Perhaps we do a little reading to guide us.  We take chances we might otherwise avoid.  We learn from the results of our experiments without blaming ourselves if the results aren’t what we hoped.  After all, it was an experiment, not a commitment!

After a few experiments we’ll have a little more experience to guide us in our gardening decisions.  Eventually, after years of trial and error, we will shape our outdoor spaces into places which please us and bring us joy.  That is the point of gardening, isn’t it?

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Colocasia 'Coffee Cups' sparkles in the morning light. New leaves now grow to between 3' and 4' high, but will likely grow larger as summer progresses.

Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ sparkles in the morning light. New leaves now grow to between 3′ and 4′ high, but will likely grow larger as summer progresses.

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Our garden remains an ongoing experiment.  We experiment with various ways to keep deer out of the garden.  And nothing so far has proven 100% effective….   Thus, we also experiment with growing beautiful plants the deer won’t graze when they find a way inside.  Our list continues to grow….

We experiment with how to grow perennials on heavy clay soil, how to protect shrubs from the ever hungry voles tunneling through much of the garden, how to adjust to our changing climate and how to preserve tender plants through four or five months of freezing weather.  We continue to experiment with new ways to construct simple, inexpensive raised beds

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July 27, 2016 morning garden 006

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We also experiment with several new plants each year.  This year we’re growing Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ and Alocasia ‘Stingray’ for the first time.  We’ve been experimenting with various Colocasia since the summer of 2014, and have six different varieties growing this year.  We’ve discovered at least two which will survive our winters outdoors.  This year I’ve added four different Alocasia cultivars to the mix, and I’m very pleased with how they are performing.  These plants all love intense heat so long as they are hydrated.  Some will take full sun, while others need shade.

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I thought I might have ruined this 'Voodoo Lily' tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better. Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.

I thought I might have ruined this Sauromatum venosum or ‘Voodoo Lily’ tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better.  Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.

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Another experiment hasn’t gone so well.  I admire Begonia boliviensis, but have had little success with it in past years.  This year I began with seven huge, healthy tubers of Begonia boliviensis, ‘Bertini’, a cultivar said to do well in our hot, humid summers, which can take partial sun without burning, and that might overwinter.  I planted some in pots, another in a hanging basket, and set those containers in areas with various amounts of light.  None so far have pleased me.  Most, in fact, look abysmal, and there are zero photos to share.

When the soil is too wet, and the humidity to high, this plant collapses.  Native to the Andes Mountains, these plants naturally grow in a cooler climate on much thinner soil.  They cascade down the rocky slopes, roots tucked into a small crevice, thriving in thin, cool mountain air.  Our hot, humid Virginia summer stresses them out.  Even though they are blooming prolifically, the stems often rot and simply fall away.  I haven’t yet figured out the formula to keep them growing strong….

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Three different Begonia cultivars share this basket with a rabbits foot fern. The Begonia Boliviensis usually dies back by late summer, but returns from its tuber the following spring. This baskets spends the winter months in our garage.

Three different Begonia cultivars share this basket with a rabbits foot fern. The Begonia Boliviensis usually dies back by late summer, but returns from its tuber the following spring. This basket spends the winter months in our garage.

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We have several more ‘new to us’ plants just getting established in our garden this year.  Besides the C. ‘Desert Sunset’ we found last week, we are also enjoying Verbena ‘Lollipop;’  native Pycanthemum or Mountain Mint; some pretty Crocosmia given to us by a friend; a Cryptomeria ‘Black Dragon’ bought on impulse last fall;  several new Hydrangeas; and two little native Live Oak trees, Quercus virginiana, ordered from the Arbor Day Foundation.  It may take a few years for some of these to make an impact,  but I enjoy watching them sink their roots and begin to grow.

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Alocasia 'Stingray' is a fun Alocasia whose leaf grows with a tip shaped like a stingray's tail. These prefer partial shade and will grow to several feet tall as the tuber matures. Here it is in a mixed planting with tuberous Begonias, Coleus, Oxalis and ivy.

Alocasia ‘Stingray’ is a fun Alocasia whose leaf grows with a tip shaped like a stingray’s tail. These prefer partial shade and will grow to several feet tall as the tuber matures. Here it is in a mixed planting with tuberous Begonias, Coleus, Oxalis and ivy.  The blue pot behind holds a Begonia Boliviensis tuber just gone bust…. I’ve transplanted some little Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii’ divisions, wilting in our heat, to fill it while I hope for the Begonia to recover.

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Like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, some of us view our garden as a work in progress, constantly thinking of ways to renovate and make it better.  I would soon lose interest in a garden where I couldn’t experiment and try out new ideas year to year; where I wasn’t always learning and discovering new details of nature.

A garden grows into a unique ecosystem, alive and ever evolving.  Gardeners earn their green thumb by taking an active hand in guiding the many changes taking place each season.  We plant and we prune.  We enrich the soil, irrigate, feed; but also pull the weeds and remove the plants we don’t like.  We attract pollinators while eliminating pests and disease through careful management.

None of us has all the answers to the many questions which present themselves over time; but good gardeners set out to find those answers through their own experience and experimentation.

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July 27, 2016 morning garden 050

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Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:  It is wise to remain open to others’ experiences to save oneself a little frustration and pain.  A little research before welcoming a new plant can help avoid unfortunate and costly mistakes. 

Be careful of introducing invasive species just because they come cheap from a mail-order nursery.  Know whether a new plant will survive in your climate and what its needs are before making an investment.  Understand how quickly and how far that new perennial or shrub might spread.  Some ‘experiments’ we don’t need to repeat.  Others will tell us what we need to know if we’ll just do a little reading and research.

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Hardy Begonia grandis has naturalized in our garden. It spreads, but is never invasive.

Hardy Begonia grandis has naturalized in our garden. It spreads, but is never invasive.

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

Green Thumb Tip #5: Keep Planting!

Green Thumb Tip #6: Size Matters!

Green Thumb Tip #8:  Observe!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9: Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

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July 27, 2016 morning garden 073

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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