Horridculture – Fake Media

P90911This is no way to get the dirt on someone. There is no dirt involved. If there were, it would be referred to as ‘soil’. ‘Dirt’ is a term used by those who do not know any better.

Anyway, this is about the media that plants are grown in. It might be called growing media, potting media, potting mix or simply potting soil. Some in the horticultural industries might say that, because it is assembled from a variety of components that do not naturally occur together, growing media is synthetic. Because it lacks real soil, most of us refer to it simply as soilless.

Now, I am aware that not all media are created equal. The medium that we grew citrus in was much sandier than what we grew rhododendrons in. It was purchased already mixed specifically for citrus, and ready for use. The medium for the rhododendrons was mixed on site, with more coarsely shredded fir bark (from local mills), less sand and a little bit of perlite.

What I was not aware of, was just how perishable potting media purchased from retail garden centers are. Rather than drive out to the farm for a bin or two of medium, I purchased a bail of common ‘potting soil’ from a garden center about two years ago. I just happened to be there to pick up something else. The cost seemed worth avoiding an extra trip to the farm.

It actually was worth the cost. It did what I needed it to do for a time. The problem I am noticing now is that plants that were not planted or canned up (into larger cans) soon enough are now lacking the volume of medium they need. They need to be stuffed, which involves sliding them out of their cans to add a bit more medium to set them on top of, back in their cans.

The potting soil decomposed too readily. It is as if it rotted into muck that was rinsed through the drainage holes with watering. I suspect that there was more to the medium that the typical simple components. It probably contained significant volumes of compost derived from recycled greenwaste. I certainly have no problem with that. I just would have liked to know about it.

This little American persimmon seedling can stay in this half empty can until winter dormancy. Once dormant, it can be canned into a #5 (5 gallon) can, to resume growth next spring, before it even realizes that it is lacking medium. It will get a happy ending.

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Iceplant

60413Bright pink bloom that can be profuse enough to obscure the succulent foliage below is nothing new for iceplant. Some bloom bright purplish pink. Others are reddish pink. A few are softer pink or white. What is unexpected is iceplant that blooms bright yellow, orange or gold, like Lampranthus aureus does. (Freeway or beach iceplant that blooms soft yellow or pink is not a true iceplant.)

Lampranthus arueus neither spreads as far nor cascades quite as well as other types of iceplant, but if planted a bit closer together, it can cover quite a bit of ground. It gets about a foot deep, or a bit deeper if crowded by other plants. It is very easy to grow from cuttings stuck wherever new plants are wanted. The inch and a half wide flowers are slightly wider than those of other iceplant.

All iceplant are quite undemanding. Although they bloom better and stay greener with occasional watering, they do not need much water. They should only be fertilized if they get wimpy. After the spectacular primary bloom phase early in spring, too much fertilizer might inhibit sporadic bloom later in summer. Unfortunately, the healthiest iceplant may not bloom again after spring bloom.

Do Not Forget Potted Plants

30918thumbAside from all the seasonal raking and dormant pruning, there is not as much to do in the garden as there was earlier in the year. Lawns do not need much mowing. Hedges do not need much shearing. Untimely mowing and shearing can actually damage lawns and hedges. Watering, which was so important while the weather was warm, is now rare in the cool weather between rain.

Watering is now so infrequent that the few plants that still need it sometimes do without. Plants that are merely sheltered by eaves probably do not mind so much because their roots are dispersed beyond the eaves. However, potted plants that are sheltered by eaves do not have that option. It may take a while in the cool and damp air, but they can slowly get uncomfortably dry.

Watering sheltered potted plants is too easy to forget about while everything that is not sheltered is getting soaked by rain. It is even more easy to forget because it is so infrequent. Things just do not dry out like they do in summer. Also, plants are less active, and many are dormant and defoliated, so really do not lose much moisture to evapotranspiration (evaporation from foliar surfaces.)

In fact, overzealous watering can be just as detrimental as neglect. Soil saturation may not be as immediately dangerous as it would be during warmer weather, but eventually kills roots. Even with adequate drainage, soil moisture can linger if plants do not consume it. Determining how much water is needed for sheltered potted plants may not be as simple as it should be.

Larger plants in smaller pots want more water than smaller plants in larger pots. Those that are exposed to wind will get dry faster than those that are protected. Hanging pots dry out the fastest. Ironically, drought tolerant plants that need the least water in the ground often want the most in pots. They are the most reliant on extensive root dispersion, which is not possible in confinement.

Some potted (frost tolerant) plants might get slightly relocated out into the weather so that they get the rain that keeps the rest of the garden well watered through winter.

Potted Plants Have Their Place

30918thumbPavement serves a purpose in a landscape. So does decking. They are the flooring of the outdoor spaces that are used for outdoor living. Patios and decks are where we barbecue and dine. Walkways and porches are how we get around the exteriors of our homes. Driveways are where we park cars. For what they get used for, they are better than turf grass, ground cover or bare soil.

So why is it so trendy to clutter pavement and decking with potted plants that would really prefer to be in the ground? It would be more practical to pave less area, and leave more space to plant things in the ground. There would be no damp pots staining concrete or rotting decking. There would be less area to rake or blow, with fewer obstacles in the way. Watering would be much easier.

Well, as it turns out, there are a few plants that should be potted. Houseplants are the most obvious. After all, not many homes have exposed soil where houseplants can be grown on the inside. Even if they did, it is still easier to keep houseplants potted for portability. Plants such as orchids and Christmas cactus, can live in the garden most of the time, and then come in while blooming. Portability is also important for tropical plants that need protection from even mild frost. It might be easier to move them than to cover them.

There are also a few plants that are contained because they are invasive. Mint and horseradish are culinary plants that are so famously invasive that not many of us would bother growing them if they were not so much better fresh from the garden than purchased from elsewhere. Rather than allow them to escape, mint is popularly potted, and horseradish is commonly grown in deep tubs.

Container gardening and growing plants in pots is something that we do for out own convenience, or just because it looks good cluttering otherwise useful parts of the landscape. With only a few exceptions, plants prefer to be in the ground, where they can disperse their roots as extensively as they like. They are healthier, and need less attention. To them, container gardening is unnatural.

Verbena

80613This is one of those warm season annuals that we do not hear much about. Verbena looks something like lantana, but rather than maturing into a nice shallow ground cover or low mounding shrub with a bit of staying power, verbena lasts only until frost next autumn. The blooms are a bit larger. The leaves are a bit greener. They stay lower than a foot, and get only a few inches wider than tall.

Floral color was already impressive decades ago when it was limited to white and rich hues of blue, red, purple and pink. Even more hues and shades are available now, as well as peach, rose, lavender and many bicolored varieties. The tiny flowers are arranged in small and dense trusses, with the outer flowers opening and fading to lighter hues before the inner flowers opening darker.

Bloom is best in full sun exposure. A bit of partial shade should not be a problem for those that cascade from planter boxes up against a wall, or pots that hang from eaves. Verbena is popularly grown as a cascading component of mixed plantings in large pots, urns and elevated planters, often in conjunction with more upright plants. Verbena works nicely for small scale bedding as well.

Pot Marigold

70405Just before the weather gets warm enough for real marigolds, and after the weather starts to get too cool and rainy for them, pot marigold, Calendula officinalis, is at its best. It can bloom at any time of year, depending on when it gets planted, but prefers cool and humid spring and autumn weather. It is not so keen on frost in winter, or the arid warmth of summer that real marigolds enjoy.

They are just as versatile as real marigolds are, and work nicely in pots, but they are known as pot marigold because of their history as culinary herbs. They also have medicinal applications, and can bu used for dye. Mature plants do not often get bigger than a foot tall and wide, with somewhat coarse light green foliage. The two or three inch wide flowers are bright yellow or orange, and can sometimes be double.

Houseplants Might Enjoy Some Weather

80404thumbThey were not always houseplants. They came from somewhere else. Most came from shady tropical forests, which is why they have such big dark green leaves, and are so tolerant of shady home interiors. They are pretty good sports about tolerating the domestic lifestyles that we subject them to, but they would really prefer to be thousands of miles away, growing wild back home.

Home interiors lack the sort of weather that the natural environments of houseplants get. The majority of houseplants would prefer rain, humidity, occasional breezes and perhaps more warmth. Some succulents may not miss the rain, but might crave heat and more sunlight. Regardless of what houseplants want, that can not get all of it in the comfort of our homes. They want to get out!

Unfortunately, that is not an option. Plants that have adapted to the relative darkness and protection from (shortwave or SUV) ultraviolet light in the home would roast if suddenly exposed to direct sunlight. (Windows block SUV light.) They would get battered by wind and damaged or killed by frost in winter. Those that become outdoor plants should be transitioned slowly and methodically.

However, there are a few times a year when the weather is not expected to get too cold, hot or windy, when houseplants can come out to the garden to get very lightly rinsed with a hose. Taking them out immediately prior to a light rain is even better. Rain is gentler and more sustained than a brief and coarse hose rinsing. Both techniques rinse away dust and residue from insect activity.

Rinsing does not eliminate mite, scale or mealybug infestations, but temporarily eliminates the residue from such infestations, and somewhat disrupts their activity. Mites prefer dusty plants to clean ones. While plant are outside, it would be a good time for any necessary repotting, or to apply horticultural oil to control mites or scale. Mineral deposits can also be scrubbed from saucers and the bottoms of pots. If hosed during sunny weather, houseplants should be shaded by a larger tree or awning.

Pots And Pans Need Cleaning

30918thumbThis is getting to be cliché. “While they are dormant through winter”, plants tolerate all sorts of abuse that would offend them at any other time of year. It applies to planting bulbs and bare root plants. It also works for pruning deciduous fruit trees and roses. It is a predictable seasonal pattern. Most winter gardening is contingent on dormancy. Processing potted plants is no exception.

Plants that have gotten too big for their pots should be replanted into larger pots. Any circling roots should be severed, just as if the plants were going into the ground. Unlike planting into the ground, potted plants require artificial media, known simply as ‘potting soil’. If larger pots are not an option, overgrown plants must at least be pruned to stay proportionate to their confined roots.

A plant that has been in a pot long enough for the media to decompose and settle might benefit from being ‘stuffed’. This involves removing the root mass from the pot, adding just enough media to the pot to support the root mass at the desired level, replacing the root mass on top, and then adding more media around the root mass to fill the pot. Exposed surface roots can be buried too.

Many overgrown succulents (not including cacti) can be replanted lower instead of higher. If settled, more media can be added on top. If all the foliage is clustered on top of bare stems, the stems can be cut and ‘plugged’ as new plants into pots of media, while the old roots and basal stems can be left to generate new stems and foliage. Newly plugged stems will generate roots by spring.

In the processes of potting, stuffing and plugging, while pots are empty, it would be a good time to scrub away mineral deposits from the bases and inner rims of pots. These deposits tend to accumulate just above the surface of the potting media, and where pots sit in water that drains from them. The pans or saucers that contain drainage water also accumulate mineral deposits. While plants are being processed, they can be groomed of deteriorating foliage and other debris.

Pebbles

P80113My little planter box downtown that I wrote about last week and earlier must be the weirdest garden that I have ever tended to. ( https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/my-tiny-downtown-garden/ ) I certainly enjoy it. There are not many horticultural problems that can not be remedied by simply removing plants that should not be out there anyway. The weirdness though is just . . . weird . . . and unique to the situation of a tiny garden in such a public space.

I have had weird neighbors before. Hey, I live where I do. Well, a resident of Nicholson Avenue saw me working on my garden one day and stopped to tell me what I should plant in it for compatibility with the color scheme of the front garden of her home a block and a half to the west. You see, she payed a lot of money for her home, and I payed nothing for my planter box that belonged to the town that her expensive taxes sustain. I just smiled and nodded my head until she drove away. I then continued to plant flowers that were compatible with the color scheme of Mike’s Bikes, the bicycle store that my planter box happens to be in front of.

Being in front of a bicycle store, the planter box collects quite a bit of discarded bicycle parts. Just about any part that can be purchased in the store and changed on the sidewalk out front has ended up in the planter box. I also find nice beer and wine glasses discarded by patrons of local bars. A worse aspect of the proximity to bars is that those who imbibe excessively sometimes barf into the planter box. Speaking of puddles, a contractor who was doing some tile work at Mike’s Bikes dumped a bucket of slurry from the mortar into my planter box, leaving a puddle of mortar that solidified into a round concrete disc about two and a half feet wide and an inch and a half thick. Cannas, housleeks, aloes and nasturtiums were all encased, and had to be removed with the concrete!

I prefer to grow flowers that are small and abundant rather than larger flowers that would be missed when they get taken. My bronze houseleek has been trying to grow as long as the green houseleeks, but gets broken off and taken as soon as it starts to look good. I figured that nasturtiums were too abundant to be missed if someone too a few. Yet, I noticed that so many were getting taken that the blank flower stalks were more evident than developing flowers. When I confronted someone who was taking them and putting them in a big plastic bag full of plucked nasturtium flowers, she told me that they are edible. So? I certainly do not mind sharing; but if anyone wants to eat THAT many of them, they should grow them in their own garden!

On another occasion, someone stopped to tell me that rosemary is a useful culinary herb, as if it were not something that a horticulturist would know about, and then yanked a huge chunk of it from the meticulously tailored rosemary that cascaded so nicely over the wall of the planter box before I could chase him away. Another chunk of rosemary was burned by the exhaust of a car that was left idling in the loading zone while a client of Mike’s Bikes was inside retrieving his bicycle from the repair shop. The drama just never ends.

But there is one oddity that I neither mind nor tamper with. It has not become a problem yet. On the north side of the planter box, adjacent to the backside of a park bench, pebbles and small stones have been gathering for a few months. Some disappear as new ones arrive, so that there are never too many at any one time. At first, I thought that they were just some of the detritus that someone flung aside after sweeping out their car while parked at the curb. Yet, there is no other trash or debris associated with the stones. They happen to be in the only spot that has been undefiled by discarded bicycle parts, glasses or barf. They seem to be placed quite deliberately in small groupings and patterns. They reminded me of those small stones that some people like to place in gravel Zen Gardens. I really do not know why they are there; but if someone is able to enjoy this little garden downtown in that way, than I probably should not interfere. The pebbles remain.P80113+

Six on Saturday: My Downtown Planter Box – again and up close this time.

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At the northwest corner of Nicholson Avenue and North Santa Cruz Avenue, in front of Mike’s Bikes, is my little downtown planter box. ( https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/my-tiny-downtown-garden/ ) That little brass plaque in front has my name on it. Everything is starting to recover from summer, and will look even better when the nasturtiums come back later in winter.

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Most of the main plants were grown from cuttings taken from the home of a friend’s mother as we were emptying it out after she passed away. She lived in Monterey, and was a direct descendant of the first Spanish people to arrive in Monterey! Of the plants pictured here, only the dusty miller in the last picture is not from those cuttings. There are two of these big common housleeks, and a few of their babies.

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This bronze houseleek is as old as the two big green ones but always gets broken off and stolen whenever it tries to grow big enough to get noticed. I really should grow more cuttings of it when I can, just in case the entire plant gets stolen.

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I refer to this one as an aeonium (or houseleek) as well; but it is really something else. I just do not know what it is.

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I do not know what this aloe is either. The foliage is pretty cool, but I think that the bloom will be even better!

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This dusty miller was added to contrast with so much pale green foliage. I love the housleeks and the nasturtiums that will grow later, but so much foliage of the same color looks rather bland. I also planted ‘Australia’ canna with dark bronze foliage.

This is my first ‘Six on Saturday’. I do not intend to make a habit of it, and would not get enough pictures anyway, but I might try it again once in a while.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/