Category Archives: Houseplants

SENSORY DELIGHTS, NOW AND FUTURE

A Scented Wave

    For the past couple of weeks, every time I walk upstairs to my home office, a sweet aroma hits me like a wave a few steps before I reach the top stair. This wave pulls me forward, a room and a half away, to the Meyer lemon plant sitting in my office’s sunny, south-facing window.
    The wave began when only a single Meyer lemon flower had opened. Now, the plant, only a foot and a half high, is decked out with more than 20 flowers.
    This “tree” started life as a cutting I took from a friend’s old tree that anyway needed some pruning. With their bottom leaves stripped off, the 6 inch long stems rooted reliably in a few weeks after their bottom portions were plunged into a moist mix of equal parts peat and perlite, and transpiration was reduced with a clear plastic …

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NUTTY TIMES AND COLD WEATHER

Nuts Galore

    What a nutty time of year, literally! Chestnuts and black walnuts, two of my favorite nuts, were raining down, figuratively, just before the middle of the month.
    Black walnuts are free for the taking. Wild trees are everywhere around here, and keep increasing because of overlooked nuts buried by squirrels. The nuts are so abundant this year, and most years, that squirrels and humans can have their fill. (Not so with my filbert nuts; squirrels will strip those bushes clean.)
    Black walnuts have a strong flavor. Like dark beer, fresh blackcurrants, and okra, not everyone likes the flavor. That’s fine. Fast food chains might purvey foods that everyone sort of likes, while a home gardener and gatherer can grow and gather fruits and vegetable and nuts that he or she really, really likes, and ignore what he or she really, really does not like.
    There’s …

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OLIVE HARVEST IN FULL SWING HERE

What To Do With This Year’s Harvest?

Olive harvest will begin — and end — here this week. Yes, it’s late. After all, the harvest in Italy was in full swing weeks ago, back in autumn. But this is the Hudson Valley, in New York. What do you expect?    I’m talking about harvesting real olives, not Russian olives (Elaeagnus angustifolia) or autumn olive (E. umbellata), both of which grow extensively in a lot of places, including here. Too extensively, according to some people, which is why they’re listed as “invasives” and banned from being planted in some regions. (But their fruits are very tasty, their flowers are very fragrant, their leaves are very ornamental, and their roots enrich the soil with nitrogen from the air, all of which garnered them a chapter in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden.)    Present harvest here is of the true olive (Olea …

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THE CHILL BANK IS FILLED?

But Do I Want Flowers Now?

    The season has been “chill,” literally and figuratively, the former predicted by weather experts based on a this year’s strong El Niño.    Because of El Niño, the West was pounded with rain; here in the Northeast, except for an occasional night, temperatures have been mild over the past few months, much milder than I remember for any other fall. It is those chilly, but not frigid, temperatures — in the range from 30 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit — that signal to plants that winter is over and it’s safe to begin unfolding flower buds or pushing new shoots from dormant buds. A certain number of hours within this temperature range does the trick, typically about a thousand hours, the exact requirements varying from plant to plant. Temperatures below 30 or above 45 degrees don’t contribute to the needed hours, can even set the clock …

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FLOWERS ALL WINTER

Mine Aren’t Frilly

    And now, with a bow to my feminine side, a little something about African violets, houseplants that have traditionally been thought of as old lady’s flowers. Still, I’ll admit it, I like African violets. They offer so much for what little effort I make in growing them.    Mainly, what they offer is flowers, and at a time — now and throughout fall and winter — when flowers are at a premium. I have only one variety, but if I was really into African violets, I could be choosing plants with white, pink, blue, or purple flowers, or blue with white picotee, or white blushed pink, or . . . any one of a number of flower colors and color combinations. And then there are varieties with ruffled, scalloped, quilted, or variegated leaves. And plants that range from few-inch wide miniatures to over a foot-wide large.    My African …

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VIRTUAL TRIP TO MEDITERRANEAN

Goodbye to Figs (For Now)

   With yellowing leaves and dropping leaves, my greenhouse figs are looking sickly. But all is well in figdom. A common misconception is that figs are tropical trees. They’re not. They’re subtropical, generally tolerating cold down to near 20°F.. And their leaves are deciduous, naturally yellowing and dropping this time of year, just like maples, ashes, and other deciduous trees.    My greenhouse thermostat kicks on when the temperature inside drops to about 35°F. Daytime temperatures depend on sunlight; they might soar to 80° before awakening the exhaust fan on a sunny day in January, or hover around 35°F. on an overcast day that month. All of which is to say that the weather inside my greenhouse matches pretty well that of Barcelona and Rome, with hot dry summers and cool, moist winters. And figs grow very well in those Mediterranean climates. And go dormant.    I …

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DRIP, DRIP, DRIP, WHERE’S THE AGUA?

 I’m Dripping, So Why Am I Watering?

  Up to a couple of weeks ago, little water had dropped from the sky this spring here in the Hudson Valley. But a drip irrigation system automatically waters many of my plants. So why have I been spending so much time with hose in hand?    Not all my plants drink in the drips. Trees and shrubs are on their own except their first year in the ground when I religiously hand water them every few days initially, and then once a week throughout the season. These plants get 3/4 gallon per week for every square foot spread (estimated) of their root systems. That’s equivalent to an inch of rainfall which, if it does fall, exempts me from a few days of watering.    A couple of inches depth of hay, leaf, or wood chip mulch around the trees and shrubs seals in moisture …

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LUSTING FOR AVOCADOS, HOME GROWN, OF COURSE

A Long Journey to Avocado-dom

This far north, an avocado plant provides reliable entertainment and, less reliably, the makings of guacamole. The entertainment doesn’t compare with the excitement of a car chase on the silver screen; it’s slower but very engaging.

To whit: I’ve been watching roots on two avocado pits elongate and branch. I spend a lot of time with plants; here is my opportunity to spend quality time with their roots. That’s all possible because avocado pits, suspended in water, will sprout roots whose growth can be watched.  (Odd, since wet soils are the nemesis of avocado trees planted outdoors in tropical and subtropical climates, and you can’t get much wetter than water.)

Despite being plants of warm climates, avocados are frequently raised by us northerners, as houseplants. I could have planted the pits in potting soil in a pot, but would have missed out on root entertainment. So I …

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