Succulents: New Plants From Old

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The bad thing about succulents is that they’re very brittle. It’s also the good thing about succulents, in that any time you knock off a fat, brittle leaf you’ve got the beginning of a brand-new plant. I’m talking about succulents with smooth, fat, fleshy leaves, not the kind with spines, like cactus.

While most typical house plants’s leaves need to be yanked or cut off, most succulents’ leaves will fall off if you look at them sideways. Accidentally brushing against them, moving pots about and jostling them slightly almost guarantees some leaf drop. It’s a little heartbreaking to spoil the symmetry of an established plant or to accidentally lop leaves off one that’s just beginning to take off, but the opportunity propagation helps to take the sting out. Got dismembered leaves? Make new plants.

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Orchids Need Air

moth orchid phalenopsis

Phalenopsis or ‘Moth’ Orchid, in bloom.

Plants tell you that that you’re not treating them right. Eventually. By dying, usually. But sometimes you get warning signs. That’s what happened to me with my Phalenopsis orchids. It was a “What’s Wrong With My Orchid” situation. I overwatered. I had planted them in a container with no drainage. They drooped and almost died. My thinking was, they live in the jungle, so lots of water and moisture is what they need. I discovered that no, that’s not quite right.

Orchids are air plants, epiphytes, that grow in the crooks of trees, with their air roots dangling every which way.

An epiphyte is a plant that grows non-parasitically upon another plant (such as a tree), and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris accumulating around it instead of the structure it is fastened to.

So, while orchids do love high humidity in the air, they don’t like their leaves to be submerged in water. Especially not the central pocket of leaves at the growth point. I was in the habit of pouring water into this area thinking that this would make the orchids feel right at home. The root of the problem is this: While we grow orchids with leaves facing straight up in pots, in the jungle, orchid leaves grow sideways on trees, allowing water to drain right off. 

I’m trying a new strategy now, and potted (what was left of) my orchids into smaller clay pots. They now look much happier and are putting out new leaf growth. While I might mist them occasionally, I won’t let water collect, letting them enjoy their new, less soggy life. 



Shred Those Leaves

fallen maple leavesFall is the time when good stuff for the garden literally grows on trees. It also conveniently falls right where you need it. So, rather than raking and putting your fall leaves out for the city to collect, hang onto those leaves. Pile them on your garden beds intact, or even better, shred them. Shredded leaves are a perfect mulch and soil builder, insulating your garden soil and improving it as they break down. One of the best pieces of garden equipment you can own, even if it’s used once a year, is a leaf shredder. Small electric ones, like the Flowtron, work sort of like a weed whipper, and shred leaves through a small hopper into a waiting garbage bin. Maybe you can talk your neighbours into sharing a leaf shredder with you.

Alternative methods of leaf shredding:

  • pile 6-8 inches of leaves into a metal garbage bin and hold your weed whipper inside it to shred leaves. You can add more leaves on top while whipper is on. 2 person job. Wear safety glasses.
  • run mulching mower over leaves, and either leave on grass to compost or add to garden beds.

 



Bulb Planting: X Marks The Spot

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The problem: remembering where you planted those bulbs last year. In the fall, your spring bulbs lie dormant and hidden underneath the soil, with no way of knowing where the heck they are. The sickening feeling of  having your shovel or spade pierce a bulb you’ve previously planted is one you want to avoid. Plus, you want to make sure you have spaced your bulbs around, so you have some spring colour everywhere.

One way of marking, is the traditional plant label. Every time you plant bulbs, add a label. This works in theory, but labels can get lost, or the words fade, so you might fail with this method. You also might not like labels sticking up all over your garden.

This is where the handy digital camera becomes part of your garden tool set. It’s great for documenting anything garden related. (I take pictures of all my plant tags on newly purchased plants, too). This year, I took pictures of the spots where I planted my bulbs: a quick snap of the package cardboard photo of the bulbs I’ve just planted, and I’ll never forget what I planted where. Remember to include some recognizable part of the garden when you take your ID shot. I made sure to get a large planter in my shot, to help me locate the bulbs. Next year when I’m adding to my bulb collection, I’ll have these pics to refer to, and know not to dig there.



Using Straw In The Garden

 

straw bales in winter

Straw bales keep it cozy.

Putting your garden to bed with an organic mulch, such as straw, helps protect against frost heave in the garden. What is frost heave, you might ask? It’s the effect of having warm days then cold ones, making the ground an inhospitable one for plants. Perennial plants want to go to sleep for winter, and stay asleep, but frost-thaw cycles in the soil play havoc with that, waking them before it’s safe.  In our city where continuous winter snow cover is rare, freeze-thaw is a pretty common occurrence.

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