Florist’s Cyclamens will bloom straight through June. They like it on the cool side and are noted for both their foliage and flowers.
Rex Begonias make great houseplants with wonderful color ranges and patterns. ANDREW MESSINGER
Rex Begonias on sale in 5-inch pots. Expect them to last about three years with annual repotting. ANDREW MESSINGER
A young Streptocarpus plant on the left. Note the midrib running the length of the leaves. On the right is a take-out food container that will serve as a mini-greenhouse with its clear cover. ANDREW MESSINGER
This strep leaf has been removed from the parent by cutting at the center of the rosette to remove the single leaf. ANDREW MESSINGER
The strep leaf has not been cut into sections and pressed to the moistened soil. Covered and left in bright light, but no sun, new plants will emerge on the margin of each section in three to five weeks. Don’t place the sections upside down, as they will not root this way. ANDREW MESSINGER
Five weeks after being started, note the tiny new plants forming along the right edge of each strep leaf section. ANDREW MESSINGER
These orange peel fungi showed up around the stump of a maple tree that was removed two years ago. The harmless fungi often show up after decay of the wood scraps takes place. The dime is for size reference. ANDREW MESSINGER
As we get close to the holidays many of us begin to think about what plants to have in the house to brighten things up. This year, these visual distractions mean so much more.
With the experts urging us to limit our holiday gatherings, there’s certainly the temptation to skimp on the plants. But don’t. I have a few simple suggestions that will give you pleasure, brighten things up and also give you some plants that you may not have considered, two of them being incredibly simple and the third being both simple and as complex as you are up to. Simple pleasures with easy houseplants that will last months and months, and even some interest for the kids.
First on the list is the florist’s Cyclamen, or Cyclamen persicum. These are in every garden center and florist shop and even in supermarkets. I’d ignored them for years until about three years ago when I was in a market that had a greenhouse attached and there were benches and benches of these riotous red, pink and white blooming plants in pots ranging from 4 inches up to 10 inches. The colors simply grabbed me, and the smaller ones were on sale for about three bucks. I grabbed a trio for flower color and returned the next week for three more for different foliage colors.
For Thanksgiving, these small potted plants looked really nice grouped on the dining table, and the next day I put them on the bench in our north-facing bay window. These plants bloomed and bloomed without a pause well into late June when they finally went dormant.
But talk about plants that are both beautiful and rugged. These are them.
We often use the house only on weekends during the winter and the indoor temperature will often go down to 50 degrees at night. The florist’s Cyclamen loved it. In the winter these windows get only a smidgen of sunlight in the late afternoon. They loved it. And us being away all week, they only got watered once a week. And yes, they loved it. I’d return late on Fridays, and once in a while the plants were a little droopy but an hour after watering they’d perk right up and smile.
So here you have a really nice flowering plant that thrives on a cold windowsill with virtually no sunlight and only one watering a week.
They were, and still are, a bargain. But expect to pay up to $4 for a 4-inch pot and more as the pots get larger. When it gets warm, they go dormant and disappear. Most will simply throw them out, but they can be stored and revived over and over again for those willing to try.
The second plant suggestion is the rex Begonia (Begonia rex-cultorum). For many years this plant was relegated to indoor culture, but in the past 20 years newer cultivars have been developed that allow gardeners to use them outdoors as potted plants and bedding plants as well. They have a reputation for being somewhat difficult indoors, but the truth of the matter is that they are incredibly easy as long as you don’t pamper them.
This variety of Begonia is primarily grown for the foliage, which can have a number of forms and styles in a wide range of colors that are simply dazzling. They thrive in a bright spot but not in direct sunlight, so they’ll do well away from a sunny window, to the left or right, but not in a sunny window. They do not require super-high humidity, but they will suffer in constantly dry air. You will kill them, though, if you’re a heavy waterer, so be aware and only water the plant when the pot is totally dry or the foliage begins to show slight signs of drooping. Keep the soil wet and they will rot in no time.
The serrated often heart-shaped foliage can be solid colored or mottled, and colors range from pink to purple, red, silver, variegated, white and combinations of all of these. Unlike other houseplants, this one is a fairly heavy feeder. You’ll need to feed it all year to keep them happy. Find a good liquid organic houseplant fertilizer with a ratio like 1-2-1 and dilute so the plant gets a very small amount of fertilizer at each watering. Always keep the foliage dry. This plant likes it around 70 degrees during the day and 55 to 60 at night.
You can expect a rex to last about three years, but there’s a really cool trick to make more of them — and kids will be fascinated by this. Take a leaf and cut it at the stem, then place the leaf on a bed of moistened sand or peat-lite potting soil in a 2-inch-deep container like a black plastic take-out foot container (with a lid). Use a single-edge razor blade to cut the leaf (only a small cut) along the side veins with slits of less than an inch. Cover and keep warm and in bright light. In several weeks new plants will emerge where you’ve made the cuts and in several more weeks these baby plants can be cut out and potted up. Three more years of rex begonias. This is a type of cloning and each plant will be identical to the parent.
The third suggestion is the Cape primrose, also referred to as Streptocarpus (Streptocarpus x hybridus) or strep. This was once a very popular houseplant, but it’s now hard to find. Ask around, and if you can’t find one you can buy small ones by mail and have them in bloom later this winter. The foliage is green, narrow (2 to 3 inches) and long (3 to 10 inches) and the flowers are held above the plants on wiry stems of 3 to 7 inches.
This plant is grown for its showy but simple flowers, and of the three we’re looking at this week it may be the most difficult (but still easy). On the other hand, it will often flower for 10 months of the year, doesn’t require direct sunlight, likes it on the cool side and, like the rex, it’s fascinating to propagate and could be interesting for kids as a science experiment.
Since this South African native has been widely hybridized, the flower colors and styles are just amazing from simple pinks and purples to doubles and bicolors, including some vibrant reds and interesting yellows. The flowers are not scented and will not make you sneeze.
I was unable to find any locally last year, but streps do show up from time to time. However, you can buy them as small plants from Logee’s Greenhouses in Connecticut (bit.ly/34nQmQf) and as it’s still pretty mild outside they can be safely shipped for the next month or so. They also have 26 varieties of rex Begonia. The plants will only be in 2.5-inch pots with 18 varieties now available, but when potting up to a 4-inch clay pot they’ll fill out nicely in just a few weeks.
One note. The foliage of the streps always needs to remain dry. Get them wet and they will spot or rot. So, always water from the bottom by filling the saucer with water until it’s all soaked up. Never leave the plant in sitting water for more than 15 minutes.
To propagate in the late spring, simply cut off a leaf from the rosette. Using a single-edge razor, cut the leaf into 1-inch sections across (perpendicular) the midrib. Using the same type of takeout food container, fill the container with a peat-lite soil (no fertilizer) then gently press each of the 1-inch sections to the moistened soil. Cover with a clear top and set in a bright spot where the sun won’t hit the container. In three to four weeks, you’ll notice tiny new plants growing along the leaf edges. Allow these plants to grow for several more weeks then cut them off the parent leaf section and, just like with the begonias, you have a cloned plant that will be an exact replica of the parent. Pot up and enjoy.
So, three ways to get some great tabletop holiday color with easy-to-grow plants and some new tricks to make more of them. Keep growing.
As we begin to wind down the garden season there’s one chore that’s really important and that’s the end-of-season care of garden hand tools.
When you pay as much as $60 for a hand pruner and over $100 for a quality shovel or garden fork, it pays to keep them in good shape. The most important thing to do once you’re finished with a tool is to wash and dry it. Pruners may need more than just water to remove sap, and while you’re washing make sure all the parts are in good shape. Replacement parts like springs and blades aren’t inexpensive for tools like Corona pruners, so check the prices for the parts you need first as you may find at some point that a new pruner may be less expensive than the various parts.
Shovels, spades, hoes, cultivators and other metal tools still need to be washed. Make sure you remove all the dirt from the metal parts then make sure the blades and tines are dry. You can also coat the blades and tines with a light machine oil or similar product to protect against moisture and rust. Stainless steel tools only need washing and drying.
Finding orange peels on the property where no one was eating oranges? It’s actually a tertiary fungus (Aleuria aurantia) that also goes by the name of orange fairy cup fungus and it shows up usually after a tree has been removed and the wood litter that’s left behind on the ground has decayed a bit. While it’s harmless to humans and pets, it should not be eaten (it has no taste) it can be confused with another fungi, Otidea, which is toxic, so best to just observe and let it be. It is a beneficial in the grand scheme of things.
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