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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Fabulous Friday: ‘Black Magic’

Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’

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It has been a few years since I ordered Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic,’ and so it puzzled me a little when I noticed a few dark purple leaves peeking out among a stand of Colocasia, ‘Pink China’ around our bog garden.  Never one to quibble with gifts of nature, I said a silent ‘thank you!’ to the universe and let it be.

Its leaves were quite small, beneath the towering canopies of C. ‘Pink China,’ and they never particularly took off.  What with my extended absences from the garden in late June and July, and the punishing drought of July and early August, it is a wonder this remnant survived at all.

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Our bog garden in July, with  C. ‘Pink China’  backlit to show its beautiful color.

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But it did.  And it stubbornly kept pushing up leaf after leaf, despite everything.

It was mid-August before I followed through on my determination to rescue this plant from its less than hospitable spot.  It is the least I could do, considering that it has hung on through at least two winters and survived the crowding of our very rambunctious and energetic C. ‘Pink China’ growing all around it.

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After about 10 days in the pot, I was ready to move our little C. ‘Black Magic’ out into the sun of our perennial garden at the end of August.

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See what a little horticultural love can do?  From a single leaf on a bit of rhizome and root, our C. ‘Black Magic’ has not only rapidly grown in its pot, it has already grown an offset!  A second little plant has emerged inches away from the first.

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September 15, 2017,  C. ‘Black Magic has already grown an offset.

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It is a genuinely magical experience to watch this little guy grow!  At first, I set it in a shady spot for about 10 days to establish.  Once I saw evidence of new growth, I knew it wanted sun, and moved it out to this choice spot where I would keep it well-watered.  I expect to leave this Colocasia out in the garden until late October or early November.

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September 20

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Now that I know  it is winter hardy here, we can decide whether to move it to a sheltered spot on our patio, or into the basement when nights grow cold.

I have been watching for new leaves to emerge around the bog garden, too.  Surely, there are still a few of  its roots in that bed.  In fact, I dug two more tiny starts, each less than 3″ tall, earlier this week.  I’ve potted them up and set them in shady, sheltered spots to grow on.

I like this beautiful, dark purple leaf, and C. ‘Black Magic’ is known for growing into a spectacularly large plant.  Plant Delights Nursery, which offers this variety, reports that the plant will grow to 5′-6′ tall and wide when given rich, moist soil and plenty of sun.   They also suggest that it can stand winter temperatures down to 0F when grown in a sunny spot, well-mulched through winter.

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This variety is known to spread quickly, as many Colocasias will, with lateral stems which run just above or just below the soil.  New plants will spring up from the nodes, rooting  into whatever soil is available; eventually forming a thick patch of plants.

I have to say that didn’t happen in the areas where I planted this variety originally.  My guess is that the part of the garden where I first planted it was too dry for it to thrive.  I moved an offset from the original plant down to the bog garden a couple of years ago, where it eventually survived.

C. ‘Black Magic’ may be grown with its pot submerged or in a wet, boggy spot in the garden.  In fact, I’m growing C. ‘Mojito’ and C. ‘Tea Cups’ most successfully with their pots partially submerged.  These are thirsty plants, needing a  lot of water to hydrate their huge leaves on hot summer days.

But I’ve learned my lesson now, and will make sure to offer plenty of water from here on to keep these rescued plants growing strong!

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Colocasias love rich, moist soil. They will grow into a dramatic display when their needs are met.  Allow plenty of space, as most cultivars will grow to 4′- 5′.   From left:  C. ‘Pink China’, C. ‘Tea Cups’, C. ‘Mojito’, C. ‘Pink China’

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C. ‘Black Magic’ was originally spotted growing in the Philippines.  It was collected, grown on, and eventually introduced to the nursery trade.  It is a dramatic plant; a touch of the tropics which will thrive in a more temperate garden if simply given a little consideration and care.

I’m happy to have another chance to get it right with this beautiful plant.  Every season we learn a bit more, don’t we?  That is one of the fabulous gifts gardening gives us, always another chance to grow our gardens well.

Woodland Gnome 2017
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September 22 …  It is Fabulous how much this Colocasia has grown since we moved it to its pot about six weeks ago.  (Why the plastic dish?  The wet sand is there for the butterflies, who frequent this part of our garden.)

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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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Leaf: Illumination

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Illumined leaves glow like Tiffany sculptures in the morning light.  How different they look when lit in this way, with a strong June sun shining through them.
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Colocasia ‘Mojito,’ center, has unusual purple patterns on the leaves and burgundy stems. C. ‘Tea Cups,’ behind, shows its elegant veins as its leaves tip upwards towards the sky. C. ‘Pink China’ also has reddish stems and sports a pink spot on its leaf to mark where the stem begins.  The red leaf at lower right is a Caladium.  Pitcher plants grow in the foreground and to the left.

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Sculptural tropical leaves, like these Colocasia, grow quickly to fill a space and make a statement.  Always interesting, their very size and subtle colors feel like living artworks at any time of day.  Catching the light at just the right angle, shining through them, creates even more excitement in this bit of our garden.
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Here, C. ‘Pink China’ is also backlit, showing its elegant veins and slightly wavy margins .  These are very hardy in Zone 7 and spread wonderfully.

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Beautiful leaves can stand alone; no flowers needed. 
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.  
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“The leaves that remain are only a very small part of the tea.
The tea that goes into me is a much bigger part of the tea.
It is the richest part.   We are the same;
our essence has gone into our children, our friends,
and the entire universe.
We have to find ourselves in those directions
and not in the spent tea leaves.”
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Thich Nhat Hanh
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Alocasia ‘Sarian’ returns in the green pot, after its winter in the basement. Caladium tubers idly poked into the potting soil last fall, return also. “What is that bright red?” my partner called from his resting place. He saw the garden from a different angle, and was intrigued by such bright color. Caladiums should always make us take notice.

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“Sometimes I wish I could photosynthesize
so that just by being, just by shimmering at the meadow’s edge
or floating lazily on a pond,
I could be doing the work of the world
while standing silent in the sun.”
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Robin Wall Kimmerer
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Woodland Gnome 2017
 

Faith and Patience

The first tiny leaves of Colocasia ‘Tea Cups,’ which overwintered outside in a large pot, and finally showed itself this weekend to prove it is still alive.

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Fear and faith often compete for our attention.  How often do we preface a thought with, “I’m afraid….,” ? 

Faith requires great patience.  It asks us to overlook the passage of time as we wait for what we want and need to manifest.  When fear wins, we let go of faith and give up our positive attitude of hope.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’ survived winter in this pot, though I feared all the tubers were lost. Here it is shooting up around the Calla lilies and annuals I planted last month.

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We may explain it away as being ‘realistic.’  We might give any number of plausible reasons for surrendering to fear.  But a hallmark of integrity and strength is one who has faith in an eventual positive outcome, who can look away from fear and remain hopeful.

I believe that gardening teaches us this lesson above all others.  The work of a gardener requires great faith, whether we are planting something in the Earth, waiting for spring to unfold, rejuvenating a shrub through heavy pruning, or simply sharing a plant with someone else who hopes to grow it on for themselves.

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In all of our work as gardeners, we maintain faith that our vision will eventually manifest, perhaps even better than we can possibly imagine it.

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Zantedeschia, which overwintered in the garden, and came back three times the size it was last year.

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I got a hard reminder of this from another gardener this week.  Earlier this spring, I admitted that I was ‘afraid’ that some Caladium tubers I’d saved and some Colocasia tubers I’d left outside over winter hadn’t made it.  I was afraid they were lost to winter’s cold, and replanted the pots with something else.  I gave up too easily….

My gardening friend chided me with a quotation from the Gospel of Matthew:  “Oh ye of little faith!” And  of course, he was right.  I wasn’t so much afraid as I was tired of waiting.  In my hurry to keep my pots productive, I gave up too soon.  I didn’t allow nature the time it needed to initiate the miracle of new growth.

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But even through my lack of faith, these tiny bits of life have grown, sprouting new leaves, and proving to me that they have endured.

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Faith can be defined as: a strongly held unshakeable belief; confidence; complete trust; an obligation of loyalty; and a belief in that which cannot be seen or proven.

It is by maintaining our faith in our aspirations that they may eventually be realized.

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The fruits of Friday’s marathon planting efforts, ready to grow into their positive potential.

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Often the difference between success in our endeavor, or failure, is only a matter of how long we can sustain our efforts and our faith.  We can give up or give in too soon!

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And so our eventual success often hinges on our ability to patiently wait for nature’s process to unfold.

When we hold on to our faith in the positive outcome we envision, we have that proverbial ‘”faith like a grain of mustard seed, …   and nothing will be impossible for you.”  Mathew 17:20

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These Cannas, given to me by a dear friend in the weeks after our front garden was devastated by a storm, encouraged me to keep faith in re-making the garden.

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Faith becomes a very practical source of strength.  It is a stubbornness which demands the best from ourselves, the best from our environment, and the best from others in our lives.

In its essence, it is an unshakeable belief in the endless positive potential of the universe.  And that is what we gardeners are always about, isn’t it?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves,
and it was completely calm.    Matthew 8:26

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