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

 

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Leaf VI: Perpetuation

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“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

 

 

 

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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