Fabulous Friday: Winterizing Pots

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Variegated foliage really pops in the winter landscape.  On a dull chilly day, anything that reflects light catches my eye and brightens my mood!  I seek out pretty plants with variegated foliage as I re-plant our pots for the winter months.

Last year I discovered Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever and fell in love with its beautiful leaves, creamy flowers, and deep pink edges on both new leaves and flowers.  I used this beautiful perennial in several pots and we thoroughly enjoyed watching it grow between November and April.

I found a few new plants at the Great Big Greenhouse in Chesterfield, VA earlier this month, on sale no less, and have them planted in pots flanking our front door.  Its shiny, dark green leaves look like they are covered in creamy lace.

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H. ‘Snow Fever’ newly planted, and ready for the coming winter season.

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This year I’ve had my eye out for a variegated holly to fill additional pots on our patio.  I won’t bore you with how many shops I’ve checked.  I finally spotted Osmanthus, ‘Goshiki,’ (also called ‘false holly) in a 4″ pot last weekend.  When I saw the double digit price for a tiny plant, I reluctantly left it behind and continued the search.

The December issue of the UK’s Gardens Illustrated only made my longing for a lovely variegated holly more intense.  Their article, 26 Hollies For Year Round Interest, details many beautiful holly cultivars, most of which aren’t available anywhere around Williamsburg, VA.  I’ve read and re-read the article several times, trying to absorb the names and descriptions should I ever be lucky enough to come across one.

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Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteo Marginata’ is safely tucked in to its new pot on our patio.

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And then we made a trip to Lowes yesterday to pick up something for my partner.  And of course, I just had to take a turn through the garden department while we were there.  And, to my delight, there sat three lovely little pots of variegated holly.  I scooped them into my cart before you could utter the syllables, “Ilex aquifolium” three times fast.

So I happily brought home three beautiful Ilex aquifolium “Argenteo marginata” for our winter pots.  Those pots so recently emptied when I brought plants in ahead of our first frost, have lovely tenants again.   Underplanted with ivy, miniature daffodils and grape hyacinths,  and mulched with fresh moss and gravel, they are properly dressed ahead of the holidays.

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These beautiful little variegated holly shrubs will happily grow in a pot for a season or two.  They grow fairly slowly, so given a large enough pot and sufficient water, you can keep them growing year round with a little afternoon shade.

For a while…. most of these ‘little hollies’ will eventually grow into good sized trees.  I use them in winter pots, with the understanding that they will need a spot in the garden before long.

The largest pot, beside our walk, had already sprouted beautiful variegated leaves of Arum italicum.  I had planted tiny starts from seeds last autumn, and let them grow on until they faded away in mid-summer.  I was happy to see them emerge this year bigger and better than ever.

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Arum has proven its worth as a stalwart winter companion in beds, borders and pots in our garden.  It stays bright and shiny through all sorts of winter weather, and the deer never dare touch it.  I’ve planted quite a few tubers in pots this fall, to fill the pot with beautiful leaves while we wait for the spring bulbs to emerge and bloom.

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Arum with Violas and Galanthus last March.

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This is the season for ‘winterizing’ our favorite pots.  Summer’s annuals are done, and any perennials we’re saving have already been moved to beds or inside for the winter.  I enjoy puttering around with bulbs, pretty little shrubs, Violas, ivy starts, moss and winter blooming perennials in this lull before the holidays are upon us.

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Newly planted pots might still look a little rough now, but the plants will take off and fill them soon enough.  If using moss for mulch, remember to keep it well watered as it establishes itself on the soil.

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To make this Friday even more Fabulous, we drove off into the sunshine to admire the changing trees, and somehow ended up in Gloucester at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop.  We came away with a few little packs of white Muscari bulbs to add a little more sparkle to our winter pots.  A tiny investment, they look magical when they emerge in early spring.

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Muscari armeniacum ‘Venus,’ blooming last March.

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Real winter remains a few weeks away from Williamsburg, yet this is the time to prepare for the coming season.

I sincerely hope that you are enjoying your ‘winterizing’ preparations, and that you are creating something beautiful to enjoy while you wait for spring.

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

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

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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

 

Fourth Dimensional Winter Pots

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Gardeners work in the first three dimensions of height, depth and breadth with every shrub, herb, perennial or creeping ground cover that we plant.  When we plant bulbs (or tubers)  in one season to enjoy in the next,  we also work in the fourth dimension:  time. 

Planting spring flowering bulbs on a chilly, autumn day feels like an act of faith; faith in the future, and faith in the magical forces of nature which will transform these little brown lumps into something fragrant and beautiful.

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Daffodil bulbs, ready and waiting to be planted so they can awaken to new growth.

It is easy enough to dig some holes and bury a few bulbs in the ground as one contemplates the holidays.

But there is artistry in composing a floral composition which will unfold gradually, over several weeks and months.

I learned about this more interesting approach from Brent Heath, master horticulturalist and owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA.

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Spring bulbs open over a very long season, in our climate, from February through May.  When you consider the ‘winter bloomers’ that may be paired with bulbs, like Violas, Cyclamen, Dianthus, Daphne, Hellebores and Galanthus; as well as evergreen foliage plants like certain ferns, ground covers, herbs,  Arum itallicum and moss; you have an impressive palette for planting a ‘fourth dimensional’ potted arrangement.

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Hardy Cyclamen species bloom over a long season from late autumn through mid-spring, Their beautiful leaves persist for months. Purchased and planted like bulbs, these little perennial plants thrive in shade to part sun.

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The recipe is simple:  begin with a large pot (with drainage holes) and a good quality potting mix.  Amend that potting mix with additional compost or a slow release fertilizer like Espoma’s Bulb Tone.  You will have much better results if you begin with a good quality, fortified potting mix.  Make sure that there is excellent drainage, as bulbs may rot if the soil is too wet.  You might add a bit of sand or perlite if your potting mix isn’t porous.

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Naturalized Cyclamen beginning their season of bloom at the Connie Hansen garden in Oregon.

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Lay a foundation in the pot with a shallow layer of  gravel or a length of burlap laid across the drainage holes.  This helps keep moisture even and blocks creatures who might try to climb up into your pot from the drainage holes.

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The fun, creative part comes from choosing what to plant in each pot.  Keep in mind that different types of bulbs bloom at different points during spring awakening.  I try to plan for something interesting in the pot from late fall through the winter months.  Violas or pansies, ivy, moss, Arum italicum, Cyclamen, Hellebores, snaps, evergreen ferns, Saxifraga, or even evergreen Vinca will give you  some winter green in your pot, and foliage ‘filler’ and ‘spiller’ once the bulbs bloom next spring.

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When I removed a Caladium last week, I tucked a Cyclamen tuber into this pot of ivy by our kitchen door. We keep something interesting growing in this pot year round.

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Next, choose bulbs which will bloom in late winter or early spring, some for mid-spring, and possibly even something that will extend the season into late spring.   As you choose, remember that even within a given genus, like Narcissus, you will find cultivars blooming at different times.  For example, plant a very early Narcissus like ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ and a later Narcissus, like ‘Obdam,’ together in the same pot to extend the season of bloom.

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Also keep in mind that there are taller and shorter flowers growing from bulbs.  A Crocus or Muscari may grow to only 3″-6″ high.  Miniature Narcissus may top out at only 6″-8″.  But a large Narcissus or tulip may grow to 18″-20″ tall.  Plan your bulb arrangement with the flowers’ heights in mind.

Mixing many different bulbs in the same pot is possible because different bulbs are planted at different depths.  You can plant in layers, with the largest bulbs near the bottom of the pot.

Once you have all of your bulbs and plant material, put about 4″ of amended soil in the bottom of your pot, and arrange the first layer of bulbs nestled into the soil so there is at least an inch or two of soil below them for their roots to develop.  Cover these bulbs with more soil, and plant another layer of bulbs.  Keep in mind spacing, so that all of your layers will have room to emerge next spring.

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If your pot will contain a small tree, shrub or perennial, like a Hellebore or holly fern, place this (not directly over any bulbs, remember) and fill in soil around it.  Likewise, plant any small annuals, like Violas or snapdragons at the correct depth.  Finally, fill your pot with soil up to within an inch or so of the rim.  Make depressions with your finger for the smallest of bulbs that are planted only an inch or so deep.  This would include tubers for Arum, Cyclamen, winter Iris, etc.

Smooth the soil with your hand, and add a shallow layer of fine gravel or a covering with living moss.  When planting mosses, firm these into the soil and keep them moist.  Fill any crevices between pieces of moss with fine gravel.

The bulbs will easily emerge through the moss, which will remain green all winter so long as you keep it moist.

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Water your finished pot with a dilute solution of fish emulsion.  Brent Heath suggests allowing the pot to drain, and then watering again another time or two so that all of your soil is well moistened.  The fish emulsion ( I use Neptune’s Harvest) has a dual purpose.  It helps establish the plants with immediate nutrition, but it also helps protect this pot from marauding squirrels or deer.  The fish smell will deter them.

If your pot is likely to be investigated by wildlife, try throwing a few cloves of raw garlic in among the gravel.  Garlic is another useful deterrent, and eventually may root in your pot.

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Violas in late March with Heuchera, Daffodils, and Dianthus.

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I planted five of these bulb filled pots on Friday, and added Cyclamen or Arum tubers to several already established pots where I had just removed Caladiums to save them over winter.  I am giving several of these newly planted pots as Christmas gifts, and so have simply set them out of the way in a protected spot outdoors.

Once watered, you can largely forget about these pots for a month or so.  They only need light if you’ve included plants already in leaf, or moss, in your design.

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When the bulbs begin to emerge in late winter, move your pots to a sunny location.  Keep the pots moist once the bulbs begin to show green above the soil, and plan to water daily once the flowers are in bud and bloom.  Bulbs grow extensive roots.  You will be amazed how much they grow, and will want to provide plenty of water to keep them going once the weather warms next spring.

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Crocus with ferns and Ajuga

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If you have planted up bulbs with perennials, hardy ferns, or a shrub with winter interest, then by all means put them out now, where you will enjoy them.  Then you can simply watch and wait as the show unfolds.

Time is the magical ingredient for these intriguing ‘fourth dimensional’ winter pots.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

 

Blossom XXXII: Apple Scented Pelargonium

Pelargonium odoratissimum

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On species Pelargoniums, commonly known as ‘scented geraniums,’ the flowers are almost an afterthought.  I grow them for their beautiful, fragrant leaves, and am always thrilled if flowers appear.  I found a nice selection of scented geraniums at The Great Big Greenhouse this summer.  Though I was mostly interested in the huge leaves of the chocolate scented variety, I scooped up several others as well.

I bought this apple scented Pelargonium odoratissimum, which is a species and not a cultivar or hybrid, on the late summer clearance.  It didn’t look very promising on the day that I bought it.  But I planted it in a large pot in full sun on our front patio beside an established tri-color sage, and hoped for the best.

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With regular water and a bit of feeding, it has tripled in size and bloomed.  I am just delighted to find it giving us spray after spray of these tiny white flowers.

People often confuse Pelargoniums with Geraniums.  Most of the fancy plants we buy for summer blooms and call ‘geraniums,’ are actually Pelargoniums, originally from South Africa.  All of the wonderfully scented ‘geraniums’ like  P. ‘Citronella,’ and this one are also Pelargoniums.   Although perennial in warmer regions, we treat them as annuals if we can’t bring them inside during the winter.  Most Pelargoniums are hardy only to Zone 8 or 9.

Species Geraniums are hardy to Zone 5 or 6, with smaller leaves and less showy flowers.  These plants are native to North America, Europe, and parts of Asia.  Perhaps you’ve grown ‘Rozanne’ hardy Geranium or G. ‘Birch’s Double.’  Their flowers have a somewhat different form than a true Pelargonium.

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The first of summer’s perennial Geraniums bloom alongside the last of winter’s Hellebores last May.

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Many Pelargoniums are considered herbs.  Leaves may be used in tea or cooking, and often they are grown for their essential oils.  Sometimes the leaves or oils may be used medicinally, as is the case with P. odoratissimum.   Branches work beautifully in  a vase.  The foliage is long-lasting and holds its fragrance.  Dried leaves and flowers may be kept  in a drawer to scent its contents.

These wonderful plants can take full sun, and like many herbs, don’t need a great deal of water.  In fact, their most common cause of failure is over-watering and soggy soil.

They are generally pest-free and grow enthusiastically, once established.  Stem cuttings will root in moist sand or soil in summer.

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rose scented Pelargonium

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If you’ve not yet grown Pelargoniums, I encourage you to give them a try.  Whether they give you blossoms, or not, they will fill their space with beauty and fragrance.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Love is wild;
its whole beauty is in its wildness.
It comes like a breeze with great fragrance,
fills your heart,
and suddenly where there was a desert
there is a garden full of flowers.”
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Osho
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Blossom XXV: Elegance
Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia
Blossom XXVII: Life 
Blossom XXVIII: Fennel 
Blossom XXIV:  Buddleia 
Blossom XXX:  Garlic Chives
Blossom XXXI: Lantana

Caladiums Year to Year

Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’ grown from a single bulb we dug last fall and overwintered.

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Caladiums are tender perennials, growing bigger and better each year in warm climates where they may be left undisturbed.  The catch is that they are tropical by nature, and want to stay warm, even when dormant.

The general rule of thumb tells us to store them at 60F or warmer, even when the tuber is dormant.  Certainly, one would want to bring them indoors in any climate where the soil temperature dips below 60F, right?  Not necessarily…

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Admiring my friend’s Caladium bed last week, she told me that they had overwintered in place.  She’d never gotten around to digging them, and just piled some leaves on their bed at the base of a small tree.  Voila!  They emerged this spring, bigger and better than they had been in 2016.

Now, understand that my friend is a gifted gardener.  She always amazes me with what she grows and how she does it so artfully.  She is the friend who inspired me with a rooted Caladium leaf sprouting new leaves while growing in a glass of water on her kitchen windowsill.

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Inspired by my friend, I successfully rooted this Caladium leaf last month.  I pulled it accidentally when weeding a bed at my parents’ home, and placed it in water right away.  If the Caladium’s petiole has a bit of the tuber attached, then it has the potential to root, regrow a new tuber, and produce additional leaves.  Once the roots were several inches long, I planted this rooted leaf in moist peat and sand.

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This same friend showed me Caladiums growing in a half whiskey barrel last summer, which she explained had overwintered in place.  She had thrown some mulch in the barrel in fall. The Caladiums surprised her when they emerged the following May.  This encourages me to re-think the art of keeping Caladiums going year to year.

My friend and I both garden in a suburb of Williasmburg, Virginia, on the cusp between USDA Zone 7b and 8.  We generally get at least a week or two of very cold weather, with night time temperatures in the teens, or lower.  We get quite a few nights in the 20s over a period of at least four months.

Our climate allows frost from mid-October through until late April.  We definitely get winter, and we are by no means tropical here; though I would argue that we have tropical heat and humidity for several months in the summer.

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Caladium ‘White Christmas’ and C. ‘Florida Sweetheart’ share the pot. 

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Most gardeners in our area grow Caladiums as annuals.  We don’t really expect to keep them year to year.  This is good business for the growers and garden centers who sell us gorgeous Caladiums in 6″ pots each summer.  But it also causes some to shy away from investing in these sometimes pricey foliage plants.  They would rather buy annual packs each spring, or invest in hardy perennials.

Yet Caladiums are surprisingly easy to keep from year to year.  The benefit is not only the savings, but also the superior tubers developed by an older plant.  You see, the underground tuber, from which the individual leaves grow, gets a bit bigger and beefier each year.  More eyes develop, allowing more points of growth for leaves to emerge.  This beautiful Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’ grew from a single tuber dug last autumn, kept overwinter, and re-planted in April.

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When you order Caladium tubers, the grower often offers anything from a tiny dime sized ‘starter’ tuber, up to a ‘jumbo’ or even ‘colossal’ tuber.  Once the tubers sprout, you’ll see the difference in how many leaves each tuber can produce.

Each leaf’s height is determined largely by the characteristics of the variety.  But the number of leaves produced, and the density of the plant, is determined by the size of the tuber.

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Caladium tubers as they arrive from the grower, ready to plant.  An eye has already sprouted on the tuber on the right.  This is the point from which new leaves will grow.

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This is why growing a tuber for several years allows it to grow larger, and more spectacular, with each year’s additional growth.  You can order a ‘jumbo’ tuber from the grower, or you can eventually grow it yourself from a small starter.

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Expect each Caladium leaf to last for many months. New leaves continue to emerge when the plant is well watered and well fed.  A perennial Begonia shares the  pot with this Caladium.

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There are several tricks to growing beautiful Caladiums.  They prefer consistently moist soil, they appreciate a steady supply of nutrition, and they want space to expand.  I often grow them in mixed planters, but a Caladium develops more of its potential if it isn’t competing too much with other plants.

Older Caladium varieties wanted shade.  The newer cultivars are bred to grow in brighter light, with some even tolerating full sun.  The leaves develop with slightly different coloration depending on the light, and the ready availability of water and minerals in the soil.  Caladiums grown in bright light will remain a little more compact.  Grown in shade, the leaves will grow a bit taller and lankier.

~

Most Caladiums perform well in hanging baskets.  This is C. ‘Postman Joyner.’  Postman F. M. Joyner bred many varieties of Caladiums in the late 1930s and early 40s.  He lived and worked in Tampa, Florida, and named this one for himself.

~

When the nights grow cool in autumn, it is time to plan for each Caladium’s winter vacation.  You might have success with simply mulching the bed, as did my friend.  But if you want to save a special Caladium, try the grower’s approach:

  1.  Dig each Caladium tuber, being careful not to damage it.  Rinse the soil off the tuber and roots, and remove the remaining leaves.  ( I often put the best leaves in a vase of water indoors.)  Sort the tubers by variety if that matters to you.
  2. Allow the tubers to air dry for several weeks in a fairly warm spot.  I lay them in paper lined flats in our garage.  Turn them occasionally so that all surfaces dry.
  3. Growers often dust the tubers with an anti-fungal powder, especially if there are broken or exposed places on the tuber.
  4. Remove any remaining bits of root or stem, and pack the dried tubers loosely into a mesh bag or cardboard box with rice hulls, wood shavings, or dry peat.  I pile my mesh bags of tubers into a paper grocery bag, and store the bag in a closet.  Indoors, the tubers stay above 65F all winter.

~

I moved this cluster of Caladiums from a very shallow pot to this basket in mid-August. C. ‘White Delight’ is bred for full sun, which it receives in this location.  Notice that in bright light the plant has stayed very compact.  Leaves vary from soft green in deep shade to bright white in sun.  The tubers were tiny in April,  just dime-sized bits that had fallen off larger tubers in transit.

~

I’ve also had good success bringing potted Caladiums indoors.  Although they may lose their leaves over winter, the tubers sprout the following spring and grow on.  They perform best kept in our living room, near large windows, where they may sprout new leaves in late January or February.

But I also have fair luck with potted Caladiums kept overwinter in our frost-free attached garage.  I keep potted Colocasia and Alocasia tubers overwinter in the basement, and believe I could do the same with potted Caladiums.

~

C. “Carolyn Wharton” grew from a tuber we overwintered for my parents, and replanted this spring.  This variety can grow exceptionally large leaves on long stems.  This variety is old enough that it isn’t patented, and so new plants may be produced from leaf cuttings or division.

~

I’ve learned that Caladiums perform better if given fresh, enriched soil each spring.  Although they will keep growing in soil left from the previous season, their growth is less spectacular.

I mix some Espoma organic fertilizer with the fresh potting soil, pot up the sprouted tubers, and then top dress with time release Osmocote.  I’ll also add some fish emulsion, or other water soluble fertilizer, once a month or so when I water them.  Caladiums are heavy feeders and produce more leaves when well-fed.

~

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If you enjoy growing an abundance of Caladiums, as we do, it certainly pays to make the small efforts required to keep them going year to year.   These are very versatile plants which may be used for hanging baskets, pots, bedding, mass displays, and mixed planters.  Shorter varieties are good ‘socks and shoes’ ground cover for larger plants.  They come in a wide range of colors and leaf patterns, and are one of the few plants to grow reliably in the shade.

Preserve your favorites from season to season, even as you sample a few new varieties each year.  You will be so happy to see your tubers grow and increase with each passing year.

~

‘Florida Moonlight’ Caladiums grow with perennial Begonia in this pot devoted, during the winter, to Hellebores.  The Hellebore is peeking out, along with a Columbine. Dormant daffodil and Muscari bulbs rest in the soil.

~

Woodland Gnome 2017
~

 

 

Leaf VI: Perpetuation

~

The garden starts looking a bit tired, by late August; and I’m certainly feeling a bit tired, too.  After all, we’ve been at this now since February when our gardening season began a bit prematurely, with a string of days in the 80s.  And we have a few more good months of gardening still ahead this year. 

The garden is getting a good, deep drink today.  It began raining here sometime after midnight, and I was awakened several times in the night, listening to the heavy rain pounding on our roof and on the trees.  And we needed this rain to soften and re-hydrate our summered out soil.

A storm is moving up the coast.  The forecast keeps shifting, of course, but we’ll harvest a few inches of rain before this low moves away from us and out into the Atlantic.

~

~

This is the time when some might give up for the year.  After all, things look a bit overgrown and shabby after weeks of heat and too little moisture.  A lot of plants in the garden have pretty much finished up for the season, or are taking an untidy nap.

Things might have gotten a little out of hand while we were traveling this summer, or while it was too hot to reasonably work outside.

~

Joe Pye Weed takes center stage in the morning sunlight last week.

~

September, almost upon us, offers a reprieve and a fresh opportunity for us all.  Students get a new semester.  Adults return from vacation, refreshed.  And gardeners get a beautiful autumn in the garden.

Autumn may be the best gardening season of the year.  Many perennials have matured into their full potential for size.  The garden’s silhouette may be more full and lush than at any other time of the year.  Colors in both flowers and foliage are rich and intense.

The air is cooler, the sky bluer, and the sun less intense.  This is the best season to give new shrubs and perennials a chance to establish and grow their roots out into the surrounding soil during the cool of the year.

~

Pokeweed has overgrown the Salvia, Colocasia and Hibiscus that have grown here for the last several summers. They are just holding on beneath its shade.

~

I’ve been refreshing our garden, preparing for the change of seasons. I’ve been cutting back browned leaves and stems, lifting mats of grass growing into my beds, deadheading, and replacing dying annuals with something fresh.

It is a good time to visit your local garden center again, with an eye towards investment in your garden’s future.  Many are cutting prices on summer stock to make way for their fall chrysanthemums and other seasonal items.  I have scored some wonderful deals recently on clearance herbs, perennials, ferns and a few salvageable annuals.  I’ve also invested in several bags of my favorite ‘Leaf Grow’ compost.  I plan to buy a few bags of hardwood mulch later this week.

Most nurseries will mark down their summer stock by 30%- 60%, depending on the plant’s desirability and how late it is in the season.   A nursery I visited on Saturday was actually giving plants away for free, with a purchase.

~

Persian Shield grows as an annual in our climate. I found this one on clearance last weekend, and have  taken cuttings from it to spruce up late summer pots.

~

As you cut back spent perennials, or remove fried annuals, replenish the soil with some fresh compost and plant something that will look good for another few months.  I’ve planted small pots of bronze fennel, Echinacea, and Lantana ‘Bandana’ in full bloom, over the past week.  Earlier in the month, I planted a half dozen Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha, all of which are growing well.  I expect the Lantana and Salvia to grow enough to fill in empty spots with bright flowers until frost.

I also purchased a huge, overgrown Persian Shield, Strobilanthes dyerianus, for about $2.00.   I love the bright purple foliage of this striking plant.  It is sturdy, drought tolerant, and can tolerate sun.  After cutting it back, I re-potted it to replace an expiring annual.

But all of those branches I removed will root in a glass of water!  As each cutting roots, I’ll plant it into a potted arrangement that needs a bit of freshening.  You can perform this bit of garden magic with many of the blooming and foliage plants available now on clearance.

~

Our cane Begonias are covered in blooms this week. Canes root easily in water.

~

Although it is still way too early to plant winter annuals, you might find some good evergreen perennials or ferns mixed into the clearance at the garden center.  I have just planted two ‘Epimediums,’ saved from a jumble of pots marked down by half.  These usually pricey perennials have tough, leathery evergreen leaves.  Their early spring flowers look like sprays of tiny fairies dancing on the breeze.  I’ve planted them where I know Daffodils will emerge next February.

Perennial ferns were mixed into the same clearance sale.  Crowded, I was able to cut the clump of fern into several pieces, planting them a foot or so apart to spread the ferny joy in a shaded bed.

~

My new ferns went into this shady bed where daffodils will emerge next spring.  Potted up are Alocasia ‘Stingray’ and Begonia ‘Gryphon.’  They will return next summer, after a long winter snoozing in the garage.

~

Fall is a good time to divide growing clumps of perennials you already have growing in pots.  Knock the plant out of its pot, gently pull a few sections away, and pack the now empty spots with fresh soil.  Water well, and let your mother plant keep on growing.  You can pot up or plant each division elsewhere, and let it grow on.  You may want to shelter the new potted division in a shady spot for a few days to let it establish, before moving it on to its destined spot.

Use this same trick with perennials, like Colocasia, spreading by runners.  Moving offsets now will give them a few months to establish before the leaves are killed by frost.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ produces many offsets, which can be pulled off of the mother plant and potted up to grow quickly into mature plants like this one.

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I learned a new trick, last week, too.  Admiring a friend’s kitchen windowsill garden, I noticed her Caladium leaf had grown both roots and new leaves in a glass of water.  Her leaf had fallen over in a storm.  When she pulled it, it came with a bit of the tuber attached at the base of the petiole.  From that tiny beginning, a new plant was forming.  When she pots up the rooted leaf, a tiny tuber will grow from these new roots.

This is one way to increase your Caladium collection; though one shouldn’t do it with any new patented Caladium variety.

All sorts of bits of plants, trimmed away in a late summer clean-up, may be rooted.  My kitchen windowsill, and the bright space around my sink, is full of  cuttings rooting in bottles of water this week.  I plant these out into small pots of soil as their roots form.

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Pruning away spent flower clusters from many perennials and woodies will likely earn you fresh flowers before frost.  Keep those butterfly bushes, crape myrtles, Salvias, Dahlias, roses, and even Joe Pye weed dead-headed, and the new flower buds will keep forming.  You can extend your season of bloom for many more weeks with this attention to detail.

Always remember:  plants want to grow! It requires just a little effort on our part to assist them.

~

Dead head spent flowers from woody shrubs, like this crape myrtle, to keep new flowers coming. Joe Pye Weed will also continue to produce flower buds if regularly trimmed of its old flowers.  Newly planted yellow Lantana and  bronze fennel now fill the empty spaces in the bed at left, where I’ve also added a bit of compost. The white flowers are self-seeding garlic chives.

~

Once the rain has finished, I’ll head back out to the garden to top-dress many of our beds with an extra inch of compost.  And I’ll follow that with an inch or so of fresh mulch over the next week.  This will offer a little nutrition to the soil, and help lock in the moisture we’re receiving from this storm.  Our cadre of earthworms will appreciate the effort.

Gardeners learn many tricks to perpetuate the beauty of their garden year to year, and through the changing seasons.  We learn to multiply and nurture what we already have, and minimize what we might need to purchase season to season.

~

Late planted Caladiums have struggled with heat and drought this summer. (photographed last Thursday, when I was keeping them watered by hand.)  Now that we’ve had significant rain, they will surely shine through the next few months.

~

Woodland Gnome 2017
~
“Many of life’s failures
are people who did not realize
how close they were to success
when they gave up.”
.
Thomas A. Edison
*
“A wise man
will make more opportunities
than he finds.”
.
Sir Francis Bacon

 

 

 

August Wonders

Azalea indica ‘Formosa’ in bloom on August 22, 2017.

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A deeply pink blossom shone like a beacon in its sea of dusty August green.  What could that be?

I know that color; a color normally enjoyed in late April: Azalea indica ‘Formosa’.   But the Azaleas in our garden are old ones, planted years before the ‘Encore’ series of fall blooming  Azaleas was ever marketed.

I studied this beautiful flower, a wondrous anachronism, as I drew closer and saw that yes, it was blooming from an Azalea shrub.  In August…

August is filled with wonders. 

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~

August often melts into a reprieve of sorts.  Relentless heat and drought eventually give way to soaking rains, cooler nights; and a chance for new growth to replace the burnt and fallen leaves of high summer.   Each new leaf whispers a promise of renewal.

~

Virginia Creeper

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After the rains begin, one morning we’ll find living fireworks sprung up nearly overnight from long forgotten bulbs.

The spider lily, or hurricane lily, has awakened for another year.  Their exuberance is a milestone along the long downward arc of days from Summer’s Solstice to Autumn’s Equinox.

~

Hurricane Lily, Lycoris radiata

~

The cast of characters in our garden shifts through the seasons.  The topography of things changes, too, as Cannas and Ficus and Rudbeckia gain height with each passing week.

The poke weed I cut out so ruthlessly in May finally won, and has grown into a 12′ forest in one corner of our garden.

~

Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, proves an invasive native perennial loved by birds.

~

Countless clusters of beautiful purple berries hang from its spreading branches, an invitation to the feast.  Small birds flit in and out of its shelter from dawn to dusk, singing their praises of summer’s bounty.

~

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After so many decades of gardening, one would think that I could have learned the twin disciplines of faith and patience by now.  It is a life long practice; perhaps never perfected. 

Time seems to slip past my muddy fingers each spring as I race to plant and prepare our garden for the season coming.  But nature bides her time, never fully revealing the bits of life she has nurtured through winter’s freezing nights; until she chooses to warm them back to life again.

~

Mexican Petunia, Ruellia simplex

~

At first I assumed it was a windborne weed, this bit of green growing up through the Oxalis in a humble clay pot by our back door.  I very nearly plucked it one day.  But something about its long narrow leaf was familiar, and echo of a memory of summers past.

And so I left it alone, keeping watch and feeding it, hoping it might be the newest incarnation of the marginally hardy Mexican Petunia.  My patience was rewarded this week with its first purple blossom.

~

~

Hardy only to Zone 8, this Ruellia is one of the plants I search for in garden centers each spring.   And this spring I didn’t find one.  And the pot where I grew it on our deck last summer with Lantana and herbs showed no life by mid-May, and so I threw its contents on the compost.

But this pot by the door sat undisturbed, filled with growing  Oxalis and a bit of geranium.  And obviously, the dormant, but still living, Ruellia’s roots.  How often our plants live just below the surface, waiting for the right moment to show themselves, bursting  into new growth.

We somehow have to wrap our minds and memories around the full scope of our garden’s possibilities.

~

Garlic chives spread themselves around the garden, blooming in unexpected places in late summer.

~

Autumn is our second spring, here in coastal Virginia.  It is a fresh chance to plant and harvest, plan and prune and putter in the garden.

~

Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’ has renewed its growth with vibrant new leaves.

~

We have ten or twelve weeks remaining, at least, before cold weather puts an end to it for another year.

As our season cools, we can spend more time outside without minding the heat and humidity of July and early August.

~

Hardy Begonias have finally begun to bloom.

~

We breathe deeply once again, and share the renewed joy of it all with the small creatures who share this space with us.

Late August is filled with wonders, teasing us out from the air conditioning of our indoor havens, back out into the magic waiting in the garden.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Blossom XXIX: Buddleia

~

Buddleia davidii, or butterfly bush, hosts many hungry pollinators on its abundant, nectar filled blossoms each summer.    I enjoy the beautiful creatures it attracts as much as I enjoy its brilliant blossoms.

~

Hummingbird moths are especially drawn to Buddleia.

~

These deciduous shrubs tend to be short lived.  They want plenty of sun and prefer rich, moist soil.  We lost several over the last few years, and had only one remaining last fall.

Buddleia want to be frequently pruned.  The bloom on new growth, and produce abundant blooms until frost if you faithfully dead head their spent blossoms.

They also need to be cut back very hard each winter.  If left to grow unpruned, they can soon grow too tall and gangling, falling this way and that from their own weight.  That said, I’ve never had one grazed by deer.

When I pruned our butterfly bush  in the late fall, I was inspired to stick lengths of the pruned stems into a large pot, around a winter blooming Helleborus.  I wasn’t confident that these woody stem cuttings would root, but decided to take the chance.  By early spring, we noticed new buds and leaves appearing and we could tell roots had formed.

~

~

I transplanted most of the rooted cuttings out into the front garden when I refreshed the pot in late spring.  But we left the largest and strongest in place to grow on this summer in the pot.

All of the rooted cuttings have put on abundant growth this summer and are now well-established and blooming.  A seedling Rudbeckia has also appeared in the pot along with a Caladium  I tucked in this May, some Verbena cuttings I planted in June, and a division of Dichondra argentea. 

If this sounds like shamefully haphazard planting, well…. what can I say?

The Hellebore took a long time to die back, as did the foliage of the daffodil bulbs still nestled deep in the pot.  Spreading Colocasia plants have sprung up all around, hugging the pot with their huge leaves.  It may look a bit wild and woolly, but I can promise you that the many hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and this lovely hummingbird moth are happy with the abundance.

~

~

Plants basically want to live.  The magic of simple propagation, whether from stem cuttings, division or saved seeds; is their will to survive against all odds.

The next time you find yourself pruning, consider whether you have space or desire for more of the plant you’re trimming back.  Green stems generally root well in water.  Woody stems will root in soil or a soil-less medium like vermiculite or sand.

There are finer points to it, depending on the time of year you take your cuttings.  But why not take a chance and give those pruning an opportunity to root?  Look at the beauty you have to gain! This is an easy and inexpensive way to give yourself impressive small shrubs for your large pots, too.

~

~

Propagate your way into a full, lush garden filled with plants that you like, and that grow well in your conditions.  Doesn’t it seem a bit magical that a blossom this beautiful will grow from a pruned stem, that would otherwise have been tossed away?

*
Woodland Gnome 2017
~

A blossom from the mother plant, still growing strong and covered in flowers.

 

Blossom XXV: Elegance
Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia
Blossom XXVII: Life 
Blossom XXVIII: Fennel 

 

Leaf V: Transmutation

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Sometime in the night, the muggy summer air hanging over our garden yesterday cooled.   We awoke this morning to cool, clear air; blue sky; and a welcome wetness everywhere.

~

~

Every leaf, every blade of grass, and every solid surface lay cloaked in sparkly drops of precious water.  Yesterday’s wet humidity condensed into this morning’s dew.

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~

The elements of our world remain in constant flow, transmuting themselves from form to form.  Yesterday’s humidity may have been rolling in the waves of the Gulf of Mexico only a few days ago.  And it has already evaporated, reforming as mist in the huge clouds beginning to fill our mid-day sky.

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~

Every element which makes up our world, and ourselves, remains in motion.  Things are always changing, always growing or dying back in the garden.  Flowers bloom, seeds form, and then the goldfinches and other birds turn up to feast on the seeds.

The water I patiently sprayed onto the garden last week soaked into the roots of the growing plants, and is now locked into each cell of the growing leaves and stems.  Water transformed into cellulose to fuel each plant’s growth.

Water was transmuted into a living plant, and may soon fuel the life of a hungry rabbit or deer.

~

~

Transmutation remains one of the immutable laws of life.  Every bit of energy transforms.  Every element endlessly transforms over eons of time.

Understanding this truth assures us of our own continuing transformation.  Nothing is ever truly lost, or gained; except, perhaps, wisdom.  We remain active participants in this eternal dance of life.

~

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2017

*

For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Elemental

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Confidence

~

“If ever there is tomorrow

when we’re not together…

there is something you must always remember.

You are braver than you believe,

stronger than you seem,

and smarter than you think.

But the most important thing is,

even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”

.

A.A. Milne

~

~

“Remember that wherever your heart is,

there you will find your treasure.”

.

Paulo Coelho

~

~

“You are the community now.

Be a lamp for yourselves.

Be your own refuge. Seek for no other.

All things must pass.

Strive on diligently.

Don’t give up.”

.

Gautama Buddha

~

~

“Human spirit is the ability to face

the uncertainty of the future

with curiosity and optimism.

It is the belief that problems can be solved,

differences resolved.

It is a type of confidence. And it is fragile.

It can be blackened by fear, and superstition.”

.

Bernard Becket

~

~

“Believe it can be done.

When you believe something can be done,

really believe,

your mind will find the ways to do it.

Believing a solution paves the way to solution.”

.

David J. Schwartz

~

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

~

~

“Your greatness is revealed

not by the lights that shine upon you,

but by the light that shines

within you.”

.

Ray A. Davis

~

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