Spring Inspires

Even Bob Got the Bug

As I write, daily high temperatures are in the 30s and snow is predicted. Nonetheless, just a few warm, sunny days and almost everyone is going to be inspired to garden. Or at least do something plantwise. Even my friend Bob.

Bob’s non-interest in gardening was demonstrated decades ago as I was starting my first very own garden at a house I was renting. Bob was there as I pushed my shovel into the clay soil of the lawn to turn over spadeful after spadeful. Bob watched peacefully lying beyond the proposed plot with his head propped up on his hands. (Not so another friend, Hans, who grabbed another shovel, and dug. Now that I think of it, perhaps I owned only two shovels.)

Crown of thorns

A crown of thorns (not Bob’s)

Bob’s current interest centers around one plant, a potted crown of thorns plant (Euphorbia milii). Crown of thorns is very easy to grow because it’s a succulent. Like other succulents, crown of thorns can store water, in this case in both its thick stems and its fleshy leaves.

The stems, armed with stout thorns, are what give crown of thorns its common name. Legend has it that this plant was woven into the crown of thorns worn by Jesus. Although the plant is native to Madagascar, it had made its way to the Middle East by the time of Christ. But it probably was not the plant that made his crown of thorns.

I once had a crown of thorns plant, and, unlike Bob, with his plant, pretty much ignored it as far as care. Mine flowered occasionally, which was enough because I had a lot of other plants to entertain me. Bob, on the other hand, is becoming a crown of thorns maven, tweaking conditions to try to eke the most and best blooms from his one plant. We go back and forth on how much light they need (the more the better) and how frequently to water (I suggest infrequent but deep watering). The final word has not been said.

Differences of opinion may be traced to differences of plants. Crown of thorns became a popular plant in the 1970s and new varieties were being offered, among them hybrids between E. milii and E. lophogona. The latter species have long, leathery leaves and flower more freely than the former. Some varieties of these hybrids had stouter stems and thinner leaves; others had thinner stems and thicker leaves. Flower sizes increased and a range of shades, from white to pink to red, became available.

Not all hybrid crown of thorns plants enjoy the same growing conditions. Some of the hybrids prefer their soil consistently moist rather than cycling between bone dry and wet. More light is generally better for more flowers although some plants need long nights without any light at all for best flowering.

In a few weeks Bob is going to prune his plant so I’ll get a few cuttings to make plants of my own. The cuttings root in a month or two if their cut ends are dipped in cold water to prevent excess loss of the white sap, slid into a well drained mix, such as peat and perlite, and kept slightly moist.

Horticultural Evolution

So Bob has horticulturally evolved to lavish care on his one plant. He’s busy repotting it this time of year.

I’ve also horticulturally evolved. I would no longer begin a garden by turning over shovelful after shovelful of soil. Nowadays my method is to smother lawn grass beneath wetted paper topped with compost for planting areas and wood chips for paths, which avoids two problems with that first planting: having to wait a couple of weeks before planting, and then having to deal with the sea of quack grass and other weeds that result from turning over the soil.  More details on this in my book Weedless Gardening.

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