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Dallying In The Dirt, Issue #247--- Will my Bird of Paradise bloom?
February 01, 2016

We took a long break for the holidays and then published an edition of dallying and then we took another holiday. This time we took some grandchildren south to visit Mickey and friends. I can try to convince you that I was doing research on houseplants and how they grow in their native habitat but none of you will believe me. I did, however, observe many of the subtropical plants that we use for houseplants thriving as they never can inside our homes. This Strelitzia, Bird of Paradise, was throwing many blooms as it brightened up the poolside. They will grow here as reasonably happy houseplants but getting them to bloom is another story. I had one for a long time, that bloomed most years. It sat beside an east facing patio door and was pulled outside of that door into the sunshine for most of the summer. Crotons were the other very colourful plant that are widely used for decorative planting in central Florida. The brightly coloured leaves really are something we would like to have in our homes and they are often sold in garden centres as houseplants. All of that bright colour needs bright light to produce it and most of our homes are just not able to provide it. Crotons will survive for a reasonable amount of time and often succumb to Spider Mites before they drop their leaves from lack of light. Why does such a great looking plant not want to spend its life sharing our homes.

Just before we left, I went to the basement and pulled out my packages of Begonia seeds. I had couple of new varieties from the main Begonia breeder and my selection of fancy Tuberous Begonia seeds. I planted them all and placed them in the propagation bed, hoping that they would have enough light , heat and moisture to germinate while I was gone. I have Begonias!!! I have no room to transplant that many Begonia seedlings. They have a while to go before I have to make those decisions. I threw that dime in the seedling tray to give you some idea of just how tiny those seedlings are. There are probably close to 100 little plants in that half a tray and they can stay there for a few weeks. I know that I seem a bit obsessed with those Begonias but they are the favourites these days. I must look past them and get the vegetable garden started. The Onions and Leeks need to sown this week if we are to have decent seedlings to move to the garden as soon as the soil is warm. They will , of course, spend some time in the heated cold frame before they move to the garden. Not only is that healthy for them but it creates room under the lights for those burgeoning Begonias.

The Solarium is rapidly filling up with more Orchids in bloom and it is quite a spectacle. Nothing comes without a bit of effort and worry. The Phalaenopsis Orchids are also sending up new bloom stalks but each time I water them I find some clear sticky fluid on the leaves. This sends me on a hunt. The sticky stuff does not usually come from the plants themselves but rather from some Scale insects that I cannot seem to eradicate despite my constant efforts. These insidious little creatures hatch out from beneath their mother’s scaly covering and wander up the leaves to find a place of their own to attach and then suck the sap from those leaves. I remove every one that I can find but the tiny new ones are practically invisible. I take a damp paper towel and wash each leaf as well as possible but it is difficult to get down into the base of those leaves and from that protected spot the new little menaces emerge. I keep a close eye on the bloom stalks themselves as they like to inhabit that nice new growth as well. For every bit of beauty that Mother Nature provides she always seems to provide a little work for the gardener as well.

Now it’s time to answer a few of my reader’s questions. Don’t forget to check the front page of the Website for frequent short ideas for current gardening activities.

Robert Asks? I was wondering how this winter will effect our garlic bulbs? We planted the bulbs in the fall and with the warm winter, they had sprouted two inches by January. The the snow came and I am not sure how or if they will survive. Any advice? Do you think our garlic bulbs will be okay in the spring?

Ken Answers! I have had Garlic sprout in the fall many times and it always grew just as well in the spring. It seems to be very hardy and shouldn't be a cause for concern. A little snow cover would help :-)

Beverly Asks? I was given some poppy seeds last fall with the hope of getting them started indoors, ready for the spring. However, I have no experience with poppies at all. First of all, they have been drying since last fall in the basement and the seeds have turned very hard. Is that what you plant or do you open the hard shell before planting?

Ken Answers! Poppy seeds are quite small and usually black. You may have a poppy seed pod that has dried. If you can crack it open you should find considerable small black seeds inside it. if you do have just the seeds then they will germinate quite readily even though they appear hard and dry. Nice moist, warm, sowing media and lots of light as soon as they germinate and you should have lots of Poppies for spring planting.

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