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Dallying In The Dirt, Issue #156 --- We went studying crotons and other houseplants in Florida
February 06, 2014

The sacrifices that I make on behalf of my readers! I needed more information and pictures of our repertoire of houseplants. The easiest way to do that is to find them in their natural habitat. Florida looked like a good spot as our northern winter became colder and snowier. The four grandsons might enjoy some time in the sun and the pool and maybe a trip to Disney. The day after our return I was able to give the snowblower a good workout moving the 30 cm+ of the white stuff. One of the most colourful houseplants that we try to grow is the Croton Codiaeum variegatum. I advisedly used the verb “try” because this amazingly colourful plant can be a bit tricky to keep. It likes a fairly high light level to keep those bright colours and it is a magnet for Spider Mites. It is grown for its very colourful leaves that are amazing in the Florida sunshine and just make me jealous at how beautiful and easily grown it can be. When you realize that it, strangely, is a member of the Euphorbia family you won’t be looking for any large fancy flowers. The Palms we sat under while admiring the Crotons were lovely as well.

As we wander through February my overflowing light tables in the basement they remind me that it will soon be time to fire up the heated cold frame outside. I really should have rebuilt it with a new sheet of that nice double walled plastic. It never quite happened this fall and as of yet I have not found a supplier. Found one at the Landscape Ontario show but they were too far away. The old sheeting is about 12+ years old and its light transmission ability is getting reduced. The frame holding it is also getting a bit flimsy. My problem now is actually finding the cold frame. With this winter’s abundant snow, great for my skiing, its location hasn’t changed but as you can see from the picture it’s not that easy to access. The sort of rectangular part of the snow drift indicates its location, hopefully. I may have to dig because I will need the room before all of that snow melts. I’ll turn on the soil heating cable and see if that helps. The soil inside will need to have warmed up before it’s useable anyway.

Last week’s “Dallying,” it was a bit more than a week but I’ll gt back on schedule now, mentioned the seeding of the dust like Begonia seeds. Covered, heated and ignored while we were away they now look like a green carpet over the surface of the germinating tray. There must be a thousand or more and I really only need about 50. I’ll jut let them compete in that tray for a couple of weeks and then transplant the strongest ones that are taking over the space. It will be painful composting all of those other lovely little Begonias but if I don’t I’ll have to build an even bigger cold frame instead of just fixing the existing one. It remains fascinating to me how those healthy little plants can grow from such tiny, dust-like seed and I wonder at the Begonia’s ability, or need, to produce such a huge crop of seeds. I guess that’s why I keep on gardening after all these seasons of trying and learning.

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.

Heather Comments Interesting about the poinsettia. I experimented with keeping mine from last year, transplanted it, and had it outside all summer. The thing grew well, lots of greenery, and this Christmas (without fussing with all the special darkness treatment advised!) it is in my bright living room and is the most beautiful thing I have seen yet! I am so proud of my experiment! Glad I didn't toss it.

Ken Answers! The joy of gardening. Everybody has different experiences and successes. That’s why I continue to use words like “sometimes,” instead of “never or always.”

Donna Asks? Lucky me, I have rabbits in the backyard! And...they are nibbling on my two willow, a mock orange and some unnamed bush. About 20 inches on each branch is now milky white now in colour. They also ate the two 6 foot tall clematis that I had growing on my deck trellis. Both have been eaten right to the roots. All shrubs and clematis are young, only two years old. Will this effect their growth in the spring? Do I have to start all over again with these plants?

Ken Answers! At some point rabbits stop being cute bunnies and become a real garden pest. Lots of snow leave them with a smaller menu choice thus your disappearing shrubs. They have probably killed many of them but wait to see what grows in the spring. The Clematis will probably grow new, from their roots. There are a variety of products that you could have applied to those plants in the fall to deter the rabbits. Keep that chore on the list for next fall.

111 Trent St. W.
Whitby ON

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