Hairy Potatoes Make Gardening Easier

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Actually, hairy potatoes have hairy foliage. The spuds themselves are as smooth as a baby’s bottom! Source: openclipart.org

A trait found in a wild potato, Berthault’s potato (Solanum berthaultii) may make growing garden potatoes (S. tuberosum) a lot easier.

The leaves and stems of Berthault’s potato, native to Bolivia, are covered with trichomes (sticky hairs). When a small insect, such as an aphid, a flea beetle or a leafhopper, lands on the plant, it is physically sprayed with more glue and ends up stuck, unable to either feed or flee. It’s a tragic destiny for the pest, but a victory for the potato!

Larger insects, such as the Colorado potato beetle, do manage to break free of sticky hairs, but the experience is apparently traumatic enough that they tend to feel the plant immediately and are reluctant to return, let alone lay eggs, unless there is nothing else around to eat.

This natural protection may, in some cases, eliminate insecticide use entirely. Here’s one plant doesn’t need people to protect it from its enemies: it knows exactly what to do!

Interestingly, sticky leaves also seemed linked to a greater resistance to diseases such as mildew, although the reason why is not yet known.

Creating a Hairy Table-Ready Potato

This discovery prompted researchers at Cornell University, including Bob Plaisted and Walter De Jong, to cross Berthault’s potato, a small-tuber variety with spuds scarcely worth harvesting, with the garden potato, whose large, tasty tubers are well known.

Note that this is not a case of genetic engineering and the hairy potato is not a GMO. The crosses were carried out by transferring pollen from the flower of one plant to the flower of another, then selecting the best progeny for more crosses, etc., a slow process that has taken over 30 years. In other words, this is the same age-old tradition that has given us the vegetables we know and grow today. Yes, even including heritage vegetables!

The first variety released, ‘Prince Hairy’ (pause while you laugh over the joke) has not been very successful, partly because is a very late variety (130 to 140 days), not adapted to growing many regions.

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‘King Harry’ potato, other than being more rounded, is quite close to being a classic garden spud. Source: www.superseeds.com

Its successor, ‘King Harry’, is closer to the goal. It’s 70–90 day yellow-skinned, white-fleshed potato, that has caught on with American organic gardeners. Several suppliers offer it, including Wood Prairie Farm, The Maine Potato Lady and Pine Tree Garden Seeds. It is not, as far as I know, available in Canada or Europe yet. So put pressure on your local potato supplier to make it happen!

Other varieties are under development.

In My Crystal Ball…

Will the potato of the future be hairy?

Maybe not on large-scale farms. They’ve learned to control potato pests with massive insecticide treatments and are reluctant to change. However, for home gardeners looking to produce potatoes that require a minimal use of pesticides, yes. I really think this kind of potato could well become the classic vegetable garden type. It’s just a matter of time!20180223A openclipart.org.jpg

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Match the Birdhouse to the Bird

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If you want birds to inhabit the bird house you intend to install, you have to do a bit of research. Source: chemurgy.blogspot.ca

What gardener doesn’t like to attract birds to their garden? Both for their beauty, their song, their fascinating movements … and their ability to control pests? Installing a nesting box (bird house) therefore seems likes a good idea. And garden centers and hardware stores sell a wide range of models! But once installed in the garden, most of these birdhouses either attract no birds, or if they do, only ubiquitous house sparrows and starlings, not the colorful local species you really want. What went wrong?

First, it’s important to understand from the start that only a small minority of birds will ever accept to live in bird house. Most species prefer to make their own nest, be it in the fork of a tree, in shrub, on the ground, on a cliff, etc., depending on the species. Essentially, the few birds that will accept an actual nesting box are species that, in nature, prefer to nest in natural tree cavities: wrens, nuthatches, some swallows, etc.

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Pretty enough bird house, but more adapted to human tastes than to birds. Source: http://www.wayfair.co.uk

Secondly, even birds that will nest in a bird house have very clear preferences about what that house should be like: it needs a certain size (neither too small nor too big), just the right size of opening, to be at such and such a height, and an appropriate environment (open field, forest edge, deep forest, etc.). Most commercial birdhouses—with their attractive colors, small windows decorated with curtains, and a “Home Sweet Home” sign, etc.—only attract sparrows. Desirable birds generally prefer simple nest boxes, made of unpainted wood or in fairly drab brown or gray colors: in other words, something closer to a tree trunk than to a gingerbread house!

Here are a few things to remember if you want a birdhouse that will attract the right birds.

• Nest boxes fitted with a perch right under the opening are not recommended: they tend to attract house sparrows;

• Few birds will inhabit a birdhouse with multiple compartments: most are territorial and prefer independent birdhouses … and even those should be spaced well away from neighboring nesting boxes;

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Purple martin houses, with their multiple openings, need to be placed in just the right environment to attract them. As a result, the vast majority are never inhabited! http://www.homedepot.com

• One of the few birds that does nest in colonies and that will willing inhabit an appropriate multiple compartment nesting box, the purple martin (Progne subis), is mostly found in the Eastern United States, only very locally in Canada and elsewhere in the US, and not at all in Europe. In addition, it must have an abundance of flying insects nearby. So you basically have to install it in the country near a lake, river or stream where gnats, flies and mosquitoes are abundant. Because they are almost always installed in the wrong places, most purple martin houses remain unoccupied … except by starlings;

• A good bird house must be easy to open for its annual cleaning, without which it will become infested with mites, lice and other insects predators that can kill baby birds;

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Protective tunnel. Source: http://www.gardenbird.co.uk.jpeg

• To protect against predators (squirrels, raccoons, etc.) that can reach into the nesting box to grab baby birds, consider equipping it with a protective tunnel like the Bird Guardian.

For more information on nesting boxes that really will attract birds, try the following:

For North American readers:

National Wildlife Foundation

50Birds

European readers need to try a European source of information, such as the British Trust for Ornithology.

Elsewhere in the world, check with local birding associations … because you always have to choose a birdhouse to match your local species.20180222A chemurgy.blogspot.ca.jpg

A Petunia Just for Hummingbirds

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Hummingbird visiting Petunia exserta flowers. It will probably be a daily happening in your garden! Bud, http://www.network54.com

Last summer, at the Montreal Botanical Garden, I saw a petunia that was totally new to me. With an erect growth habit and small red star-shaped flowers, it only vaguely resembled the blowzy hybrid petunias (Petunia x atkinsoniana) that I knew. The label gave its name as Petunia exserta. So that solved part of the mystery: it wasn’t some new hybrid, it was a species.

While taking photos with my cellphone, a ruby-throated hummingbird* (Archilochus colubris) buzzed into view and began methodically visiting the flowers, one after the other. I found that odd, because in my experience, hummingbirds usually don’t spend much time visiting hybrid petunias as they’re rather stingy with their nectar. I was intrigued!

*Hummingbirds are found only in the Americas.

A Little Research

Back home, I did a bit of research on this plant and discovered that it’s known to be a hummingbird plant. In fact, it is the only petunia that is pollinated only by hummingbirds in the wild (the others are pollinated by bees and moths). Moreover, it has heavily modified its morphology to please its pollen carrier, developing a red corolla (the hummingbird’s favorite color), an abundance of flowers over a long period and a long tube rich in nectar. The flowers are odorless, though, because hummingbirds are not attracted to perfume.

Note that P. exserta is also the only wild petunia with red flowers. (The others have white, pink or purple flowers.) Interestingly, the red coloration now found in many hybrid petunias comes from very different pigments from those found in this wild species.

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The dusting of yellow pollen around the flowers’s center show that it was recently visited by a hummingbird. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

The name “exserta” comes from the fact the stamens and stigma that emerge from the corolla, as exserta means “pushed forward.” It’s yet another a specific adaptation to hummingbird pollination. As the hummingbird’s beak dives into the bottom of the flower in search of nectar, its neck rubs against the exserted stamens and picks up pollen that the bird will carry to the next flower. A perfect symbiosis!

Barely Discovered, Already Threatened!

This species was only recently discovered in the Serras de Sudeste of Brazil in 1987 and, sadly, is already considered to be near extinction in the wild. An expedition in 2007 to the cliff side where it grows could only find 14 specimens!

For once, this plant is not threatened by habitat destruction due to farming or urbanization—at least not yet!—but by the intrusion into its territory of another petunia, P. axillaris, a moth-pollinated, night-scented white petunia, one of the parent species of the hybrid petunia. It seems that the two cross quite readily and that the hybrids lose their hummingbird-magnet features.

Grow Your Own

Despite its rarity in the wild, Petunia exserta is not difficult to cultivate. Just treat it like any petunia. Sow the seeds indoors about 10 weeks before the planned planting date in the garden, pressing the seeds into the potting soil without covering them, as they need light to germinate. The seeds will sprout in about ten days at room temperature.

When the soil has warmed up and there is no risk of frost, transplant the seedlings into a bed or container. Petunia exserta prefers full sun and a rich and well-drained soil.

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When grow in groups, here at the Montreal Botanical Garden in the summer of 2017, it makes an impressive display. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

In regions with long a growing season, like southern California, you can skip all the “starting indoors” stuff and just sow it outdoors where you want to see it bloom.

On its own, it’s a rather tallish petunia (18 inches/45 cm) and a bit scrawny: it will look best either grown in a large clusters or mixed in with other annuals.

In addition to hummingbirds, butterflies love it. On the other hand, the sticky texture of its leaves displeases mammals, so deer, rabbits, marmots and their annoying little friends tend to leave it alone.

Where to Find It?

This plant is very new to the market. Just a year or two ago, the only way to obtain was to know a botanist … and not just any botanist, either! It was very, very hard to come by! Lately, a few—very few—seed companies have taken it up and now “share it with the masses” (that means, you and I!). I’ve seen it at Select Seeds in the US, Gardens North in Canada and Plant World Seeds. There may well be a few others.

And if you’re looking for packs of plants already started and ready for you to plant up … well, be patient. I don’t think you’ll find it in your local garden center anytime soon!

Petunia exserta: beautiful flowers that attract hummingbirds. Certainly a plant worth discovering!

Aloe Gel: How to Use It Safely

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Medicinal aloe: it’s both toxic and edible. Source: www.bakker.com

Discussing toxic plants is always a bit complicated.

You might think it would be cut and dry, that a plant is either toxic or it is not, but it isn’t that simple. Plants can have both toxic parts and safe parts, for example, can be safe to eat in modest quantities, but toxic when too much is consumed, safe at certain seasons and toxic at others, or again, can be toxic raw and safe or even edible after cooking. When I published a list of 200 Poisonous Houseplants a few months ago, for example, I specifically included plants that could be toxic if nibbled on by a child or pet. It was not intended to be a condemnation of a plant’s toxicity under all circumstances!

Aloe: Both Harmless and Toxic

The highly popular medicinal aloe (Aloes vera), generally called just aloe, is a good example. This popular houseplant (in cold climates) and garden plant (in mild ones) is perfectly safe to use, even internally, when you know what to do, but irritating and somewhat toxic (plus highly bitter) if not used carefully.

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The gel inside the leaf is safe to use, but avoid the toxic yellow sap just inside the rind. Source: www.valueadd.sg

The part you want is the clear gel inside the leaf, used to reduce the pain of scrapes, minor burns and cuts, etc., and to help quicken healing as well as, internally, to soothe the gastrointestinal tract. However, just inside the leaf, there is a narrow band of yellow tissue that gives off a toxic, bitter sap due to the presence of aloin. You don’t want to use that!

It’s therefore not wise just to cut off the tip of a leaf and squeeze out the gel like so much toothpaste. Than can release aloin along with the gel, resulting in irritation. Rather than squeeze the leaf, harvest one (or part of one) and cut it open. Here’s how:

Put on a pair of gloves (aloe leaves have spiny edges—not wickedly prickly, but still!) and pull a healthy leaf back and forth until the leaf pulls free. Some people prefer to cut the leaf free with a sharp knife.

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Cut off the top of the leaf and scoop out the gel. Don’t scrape the bottom! Source: thepaleomama.com

Use the same sharp knife to “filet” the leaf, cutting off the green and yellow layers on top. Now simply scoop out the gel with a spoon, leaving behind the lower layer of gel, closest to the rind.

If you only need a small amount of aloe sap, after you harvest the leaf, cut off a small section and only filet that, wrapping the rest up in plastic wrap. It will store for 10 to 15 days at room temperature or for 20 to 25 days in the refrigerator.

You can store excess aloe gel in a container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. There are also treatments you can use to make the gel last even longer, like mixing in vitamins C and E, but I find an aloe plant produces enough leaves that it is much easier just to harvest a new one than to use complicated procedures to extend the use of gel you’ve harvested.

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The medicinal aloe: an easy-to-grow houseplant. Source: www.bakker.com

To learn how to grow an aloe plant, read Save Money: Grow Your Own Aloe.

Enjoy growing your aloe plant. It’s an attractive and easy-to-grow plant, practical to have on hand for minor medical emergencies. I just hope you don’t need to use its gel often!

Slugs Ruining Your Garden? Get Ducks!

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Nothing controls slugs better than ducks! Source: www.clker.com & http://www.okclipart.com

This is not a joke. Ducks are excellent finders and consumers of slugs and snails, plus many other insects and invertebrates. They’ll clean up a vegetable bed in no time. Several years ago, a man in Germany created a business renting them out to gardeners. That business seems to have disappeared (possibly overcome by the logistical problems of moving ducks from one garden to the next), but maybe someone else could give it a try?

Or you could raise your own ducks if you have the space and inclination.

Plenty of Good Poop!

Ducks also produce prodigious amounts of rich manure, so they feed your plants even as they clean them. They’ll also quickly turn leaf mulch into compost by mixing in and turning the leaves while adding droppings and mud (yes, those flat feet do track a bit of dirt!) Plus they supply you with eggs and meat. They are tougher and hardier than chickens and do less damage to plants, although they do like to keep lawns nicely clipped.

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Ducks are usually quite safe around established plants, but can damage seedlings. Source: Steven Schantz, YouTube

They can be hard on seedlings, though, trampling some with their feet and digging up and eating others, but usually leave established plants alone (unlike chickens). Ideally, you’d use them for a thorough slug-and-bug clean-up either at the end of the gardening season or just before it kicks off again in the spring, then bring them in occasionally, as needed, during the growing season for a bit of a clean-up and to handle any mid-season emergencies, like a grasshopper invasion. Or brush Japanese beetles to the ground (they hang around too high up for ducks to reach) and your horde of voracious waterfowl will follow you around and snap them up.

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When you’re ready, open the fence and let them forage. Source: www.pets4homes.co.uk

You’ll need to keep an eye on ducks in a growing garden and to chase them off (they’re easy to herd) if they become interested in something they shouldn’t. The easiest thing is to simply bring the ducks with you when you’re gardening so you can keep tabs on them, then chase them out of the garden when you’ve finished. If yours have free run, fence in your veggies during the growing season (a simple 2 ft/60 cm barrier would do, as most races are flightless) and let them patrol the perimeter. That way they’ll catch marauders before the latter make it to your plants.

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If your raise ducks, they’ll need an enclosure for protection from predators. Source: www.gardenwoodcraft.co.uk

Ducks also need care and feeding, including fresh water to drink at all times, protection from predators and, in cold climates, a winter shelter. Oddly enough, given that they are waterfowl, they don’t need to swim and would probably dirty up any pond or basin pretty quickly. You can put out a kiddie pool every now and then for their enjoyment, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

Then there is the question of legality: many municipalities ban the keeping of poultry, but laws are changing and more and more are opening up to families raising a few chickens and possibly ducks as well.

And you do need ducks. Plural. Two or more. Three or four are even better. They’re social creatures and like company. Certain races, including the very popular Indian Runner, are better at slug control than others, so check into that as well.

If only we all had duck rental outfits nearby, that would solve a lot of our gardening problems. So, entrepreneurs, what are you waiting for?

Here’s a short article on the subject you might want to read: Natural Pest Control for Gardens with Ducks!20180219A  www.clker.com & www.okclipart.com.jpg

What Is a Lucky Bamboo?

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The so-called lucky bamboo isn’t a bamboo at all. Source: www.amazon.com

You see lucky bamboos everywhere: supermarkets, florist shops, box stores, convenience stores, garden centers, etc. But this plant is not a bamboo at all and … is it really “lucky?” That’s far from certain … especially for the poor plant which, as you’ll see, is often in a really dire situation.

The plant in question is Dracaena braunii (formerly D. sanderiana), a shrub 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 m) tall that grows wild in the jungles of Africa. However, it has long been grown as a houseplant, at one point especially as a terrarium plant, under the name ribbon plant or ribbon dracaena. When I first started doing terrariums back in the 1970s, the variegated forms, either with leaves and stems striped white or (less frequently) yellow, were the most common. The original form, of course, had entirely green leaves and stems, and it is very much back in style these days.

Braun’s dracaena (as I’ll call it here) has tall stems with nodes very much in evidence, especially when you pull off most of its leaves, giving this plant a very bamboo like appearance. Of course, it is not a bamboo. Bamboos are grasses with hollow woody stems and are in no way related to dracaenas. However, enterprising Chinese entrepreneurs smelled gold when they saw you could transform the normally leafy dracaena into a bamboo substitute.

You see, in China bamboo has long been associated with good fortune, but few genuine bamboos can easily grow indoors (actually, essentially no true bamboo really makes a good houseplant, at least, not for beginners). If slow-to-die dracaena plants, well adapted to shady interiors, could be passed off as bamboos, there would be a lot of money to be make in China, what with millions of people living in apartments who would now be able to grow their own bamboos. So dracaena farms began sprouting up across China, and later throughout Asia, to satisfy the Chinese superstitious beliefs that growing bamboo brings good luck.

These beliefs, called feng shui (let’s resume the term as meaning “the art of harmonizing environmental energy”), began circulating in the West as well, especially from the 2000s on. Suddenly the market for this “lucky bamboo” became global and the producers of these faux bamboos became very, very rich! So you see, lucky bamboos do bring good fortune … to a lucky few!

Large Scale Production

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Lucky bamboo farm in Asia. Source: www.alibaba.com

Today, literally millions of stems of D. braunii are produced annually in farms throughout tropical regions of Asia. They simply stick dracaena stem cuttings into the ground very densely (they root readily), as overcrowding reduces the amount of light reaching each plant, forcing it to etiolate and thus gain height faster, which shortens production times. Most plants are grown in shade houses or under trees, as dracaenas will not tolerate full tropical sun.

In the simplest form of production, when the plants are high enough, the stems are simply cut into sections of variable length and placed in buckets of water to root. Once rooted, they are shipped around the world and sold on their own or in containers of water or of water and stones.

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Tower formed of dracaena stems of three different leaves tied together. When set in water, roots will form at the bottom and new growth will appear from the top of the stems, all of which are oriented so that dormant buds (the site of future growth) face outwards. Source: http://www.sevenluck.com

But the Chinese appreciate added value. So enterprising growers began to give them more than just rooted cuttings. Among other things, they began to tie stems together with red or gold ribbons (two colors considered auspicious by the Chinese), increasing sales. Sellers learned that towers of dracaenas, composed of stems of different heights, could be sold for even more money. And they even discovered that they could manipulate stem growth in order to achieve special effects: spirals, braids, hearts etc.

This may seem surprising, as dracaena stems are not very malleable and will not hold their form when you try to bend them. So, how do growers create those intriguing spiral forms?

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To force Braun’s dracaena to grow in a spiral, the stems are laid flat, then turned regularly. Source: www.chhajedgarden.com

The trick is to understand that dracaenas always grow straight up, towards the light, by phototropism, so if you change the stem’s angle, new growth will reorient itself. Thus, out in the fields of dracaenas, when the stems reach an appropriate height, workers bend the stems to the ground and fix them to the soil. With the stem now horizontal, its tip will therefore start producing new growth almost straight up, nearly at a 90˚ angle from the original stem. But after a few weeks, the growers move the stems a bit clockwise (or counterclockwise). The plant then changes direction, trying to straighten itself. This is repeated regularly, slowly giving the plant a curved stem. By the time the stem has been moved in a full circle, its extremity has now described a complete loop. Keep doing this two or three times and the stem now forms a beautiful spiral. That’s a lot of work and the growers must carefully calculate the moves they make to the stems, but they have become masters in the art of forcing the stem to create a sellable spiral.

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Braided stems are created by forcing the plants to grow first in one direction, then the opposite one. Source: www.amazon.com

Braided stems are created in a similar fashion, but instead of a spiral, moving the now horizontal main stem back and forth creates, a zigzag growth pattern. When the zigzagging part is cut off, rooted and correctly arranged with other stems, this gives a braided appearance.

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Heart-shaped growth pattern. Source: http://www.rbbimports.com

As for the heart-shaped form so popular at Valentine’s Day, much the same thing is carried out, but here dracaenas are grown on a slope. When the stem is bent down to the ground, its tip is now actually lower than the plant’s root system. Again, careful movement of the stem will result in a hook shape … and two hooks attached face to face form a heart: it’s that simple!

Why Lucky Bamboos Die

Braun’s dracaena is a tough plant that can take much abuse, but growing them as lucky bamboos pushes the abuse to its limits. That’s why lucky bamboo plants are almost never long-lived, lasting 6 to 9 months, rarely much longer, and generally going downhill the whole time. And there are many reasons for this failure.

For one, like most plants, Braun’s dracaena carries out most of its photosynthesis through its leaves … yet the plant has been stripped of much of its foliage. When sold, there are usually only a few sprouts of new growth and no fully formed leaves. So the plant is already in a weakened state.

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Look for plants with at least some health white roots among the brown dying ones. Source: davesgarden.com

Then there is a problem with its roots. The lucky bamboos received from China, especially, are shipped dry, with their roots exposed to the air. That’s because it’s much cheaper to ship them that way. By the time they reach you, though, most of the roots are dead or dying and look it, with shriveled tips. If you want a lucky bamboo dracaena that will last, look for a plant with at least some white roots peeking out from the mass of dead ones. If that isn’t possible, it may be best to cut off the base of the stem and reroot it, preferably in soil, cutting just below a healthy node.

Also, these plants are generally sold growing in water or else in decorative stones and water. This is not ideal, as dracaenas are not aquatic plants. Left sitting for weeks in the same water (as they will in the stores that sell them), the water will become deoxygenated and stagnant … yet oxygen is required for healthy root growth. In addition, the dracaena is among the few houseplants that won’t tolerate the chlorine found in tap water (see No Need to Let Chlorine Evaporate). It should be watered with rainwater, distilled water, dehumidifier water or, at very least, with filtered water (poured through a fresh Britt filter, for example). But usually neither the seller nor the buyer does so.

Even if you replant your faux bamboo in potting soil, it often still ends up dying: the roots, formed under water, are not accustomed to a terrestrial situation and tend to rot. That’s another reason why it’s often easiest to simply start your plant anew from cuttings.

Also, the plant is often infested with diseases, notably fungus and bacteria (let’s just say growing conditions in China are not necessarily very sanitary!), including diseases that affect their leaves and several bacteria that can cause rot. And these problems are hard to treat.

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Avoid plants with yellowing stems or leaves. Source: thereservoir.wordpress.com

One way to reduce the risk of buying a sick plant is to avoid any plants with yellowing or browning stems or leaves. Even if your plant looks healthy, if other plants from the same shipment are obviously sick, it is quite possible that your plant is contaminated too.

How to Grow Healthy Lucky Bamboo Dracaenas

Let’s assume that you are able get ahold of a lucky bamboo dracaena in good condition, with at least some white and vigorous roots and green and healthy leaves and stems. Here’s what to do to keep it healthy and growing:

First, it requires relatively warm temperatures all year: never below 60˚ F (15˚ C) and even warmer is better. It will also need moderate light in the summer, with a few hours of direct morning sun, so an east window or a few feet back from south or west window would be appropriate. If you live outside of the tropics, give it full sun in winter if you can.

If you grow it in water, change the water weekly, using distilled, filtered or dehumidifier water or rainwater. Fresh water ensures that the roots are adequately oxygenated. Also, once a month, add a tiny amount of water-soluble fertilizer to the water, at least during the spring and summer months. Normally this could stimulate the growth of algae, but since you’ll be changing the water weekly, algae won’t have time to develop.

If you grow them in soil, you’ll find they are less susceptible to the ravages of tap water. Nevertheless, it is still better to water with distilled or filtered water or rainwater or at least to leach the soil 2 or 3 times a year. Water the plant normally, that is, when the soil is dry to the touch. And feed occasionally with the fertilizer of your choice.

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A healthy dracaena produces so much foliage it no longer looks like a bamboo. Source: somaliwide

A healthy lucky bamboo dracaena will continue to grow, filling in with fresh foliage … and their now denser growth will eventually destroy the original effect. If you want to maintain a bamboo like appearance, you’ll have to occasionally strip off lower leaves or eventually even cut the stems back harshly, forcing the plant to produce new shoots. Or just let the plant grow naturally and let it take on a shrubbier appearance.

Personally, I prefer the natural look of a dracaena: it somehow seems happier once you “free it” from the constraint of having to grow like something it is not!20180218A www.amazon.com.jpg

Garden Myth: Toads Give Warts

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No, handling a toad won’t give you warts. Source: http://www.lfwa.org

Decidedly, old misconceptions have a long life! I thought the myth that touching a toad will give you warts was a thing of the past, but just recently a reader emailed me asking if it were true.

The answer is … of course not!

This old belief comes from the fact that the toad’s body seems covered with warts, but in fact, it isn’t. The protuberances that cover its body are glands that help keep its skin moist, not warts. And some of these glands release a poison to discourage its predators and therefore it’s always best to wash your hands after handling a toad, otherwise it could cause skin irritation on some individuals … but not warts!

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There is rarely a good reason to handle toads anyway. Just let them be. Source: nature.mdc.mo.gov

Anyway, there is rarely a good reason to manipulate a wild animal, not even something as docile as a toad.

Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and spread by touch from one infected person to another. The virus  can also live on surfaces for some time, so it’s not wise to walk barefoot in a public place. But warts never come from animals.

Toads are beneficial creatures that consume many plant predators (insects, slugs, etc.) and, as such, we should encourage their presence in our gardens, but we don’t normally have to handle them. Just let them live their life, period!

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