Baby Pepper Inside a Mature Pepper

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Source: Lucille Samson

Question: I was cutting peppers and I found a green growth inside a red bell pepper. Can you tell me if I can plant it and if so, how?

Lucille Samson

Answer: This is a fairly rare phenomenon, but one that does show up occasionally. It is actually a small pepper growing inside the mature pepper.

It’s called an “internal proliferation” and is an abnormal growth, a bit like a tumor in humans, but not harmful. Sometimes it forms a perfectly symmetrical miniature pepper, but in other cases, like yours, the pepper is misshapen and not as easy to recognize. The small pepper is, however, perfectly edible.

And no, you can’t use it to produce another pepper.

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The View From My Armchair

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Winter? What winter?

Above is what I see from my living room when I’m comfortably stretched out on my recliner. I only have to look up to admire the “greenhouse” (officially a solarium) filled to the brim with beautiful houseplants.

Right now, I can see mandevillas, pelargoniums, crowns of thorns, begonias, Thanksgiving cactus and a bird of paradise in bloom, and others will follow throughout the winter. And despite the beauty of the flowers that dot the mass of green, I think I still prefer the tropical effect of the foliage. Why bother traveling to Cancún in the winter when Cancún comes to you!

During the summer, all that beautiful vegetation spends the summer outside, so from my armchair I can see through the glass walls of the greenhouse into beautiful flower beds. Temperate flowers in the summer, tropical foliage all winter, all from a comfortable armchair … isn’t life wonderful!

My Orchid Has Limp, Wrinkled Leaves

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Droopy, wrinkled leaves on a phalaenopsis are generally a sign of watering problems. Source: soo neaty, http://www.youtube.com

Question: I have an orchid whose leaves are limp and wrinkled. What should I do?

Bourdet

Answer: Note that in the following answer, I’m presuming your orchid is a phalaenopsis (Phalaenopsis cv), by far the most commonly sold orchid. However, the information also applies to many of the other orchids grown as houseplants.

Usually, the presence of soft, droopy leaves wrinkled lengthwise indicates that not enough water is reaching the leaves and there are two main reasons for that: chronic underwatering or overwatering.

Underwatering

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Shriveled roots combined with wilting leaves indicate a chronic lack of water. Source: myorchiddiary.wordpress.com

If the plant is regularly being underwatered (very common with the unreliable ice cube watering method), the roots will appear pale green or white yet shriveled. If so, you can plump up your phalaenopsis fairly quickly by watering it more effectively. Ideally, that would be by soaking the pot in tepid water—yes, even right up to the pot’s rim!—for 10, 15, 20 minutes, even half an hour, then letting the excess water drain off before putting the plant back in its place. Then, when the substrate is dry to the touch, soak the roots again.

Depending on your growing conditions, you’ll probably find your phalaenopsis needs watering about once a week to 10 days.

Overwatering

If the plant has received too much water for too long, the roots or at least a good part of them will be brown or yellow and either rotting or rotten. This is a much more serious problem and it isn’t always possible to recuperate an orchid with dying roots, but you can certainly try.

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Prune off the yellowed and brown rotting roots. Source: Randy from Maui, http://www.youtube.com

Unpot the plant, cut off the dead roots (disinfecting the pruning shears in rubbing alcohol after each cut) and repot into a clean pot with fresh orchid mix. Give the plant a few days to recuperate from the shock, then take up regular watering. With a little luck, new roots will grow and most of the old leaves will become turgid again, although you may lose a few (just pull or cut them off).

In the future, be careful to only water when the mix is dry to the touch. However, when you do water, always do so abundantly. Again, soaking the roots in tepid water, then letting the surplus water drain away, is the best way to water any phalaenopsis … and, in fact, pretty much any orchid.

The Sound of Water Attracts Birds

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Bridled titmouse drinking from a leaky tap. Source: davesnature.wordpress.com

Did you know that the sound of dripping water attracts birds to your garden?

If you have a garden faucet that leaks just a bit (if it leaks a lot, have it repaired!), place a rock or bird bath at its base so the drops make a “plop plop” sound and you will see many more birds visit your garden, first coming to investigate the sound, then to drink from the dripping water.

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Home-made dripper made from a plastic bottle. Source: Ronda Kesterson-Bennett, http://www.pinterest.ca

Another option is to make a dripper from a plastic bottle (a 2-liter soft drink, for example). Pierce a tiny hole in the bottom with a hot needle, fill it with fresh water and hang the dripper from a tree over a bird bath. Now, set yourself down to watch the bird traffic! You’ll probably have to refill the bottle daily.

Forcing Bulbs Over Water: A Project for the Whole Family

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Forcing bulbs: as easy as 1, 2, 3! Source: www.homedepot.com

 I already explained in a recent article how to force bulbs in a pot of growing media, but you can also force them with no soil at all, over a container of water.

A hyacinth vase” is typically used for this purpose. It’s a transparent or ceramic hourglass-shaped container designed to hold one bulb. The constriction at the vase’s neck is designed to support the base of the bulb and hold it above the water so it won’t sit in water and rot. Hyacinth vases have been around since at least the 18thcentury and are easy to find in garden center that sells bulbs as well as online.  

However, you don’t actually need a hyacinth vase. You can use any container with a neck the right size to hold the bulb suspended above water: for example, a small jam jar might work.

A Great Project for Kids

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Forcing bulbs over water is an easy project for children. Source: www.vancouversun.com

I first experienced forcing a bulb in water in kindergarten. I was absolutely fascinated to see the plant grow from roots to bloom in such a short time. And this is something you can do with your children or grandchildren. Also, a bulb is big enough that a child manipulate it and put it in the vase. From about age six on, children are even mature enough to be able to water their sprouting bulb … under the watchful eye of a parent, of course, to remind them about regularly checking the water level.

The bulb traditionally used for forcing over water is the hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis). Garden centers sell them from September until near Christmas. Any bulb about the size of a hyacinth bulb could also be used instead, such as a large tulip or narcissus bulb.

Smaller bulbs, like crocus, squills and muscaris, would just fall right through the throat of a hyacinth vase, but if you look, you can find “crocus vases” online that are adapted to smaller bulbs. Plus there are lots of bottles with a constricted throat of an appropriate size. You can even grow an amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulb over water … provided you find a container with a large enough mouth. And yes, there are amaryllis vases to be found online!

The Best Bulbs for Water Culture

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Prepared hyacinths are particularly easy to force. http://www.waitrosegarden.com

The best bulb for a hyacinth vase is, of course, a hyacinth, but not just any hyacinth: a prepared hyacinth. They come in all the usual hyacinth colors and are just as deliciously perfumed, but have been, as the name suggest, pretreated by gradual cooling so that they have already undergone the “cool winter” needed to encourage bloom. As a result, they don’t absolutely need a chilling period (although cool temperaturesabout 50 to 54 ° F (10 to 12 ° C)are still best). Nor do they really need to be stuck in a dark corner: you can just put them on a window ledge and let them do their thing! And a prepared hyacinths blooms quite quickly: in as little as 6 weeks, although 9 is more likely.

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Paperwhite narcissus. Source: strawberrydelivery.com

The Paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus and its close relatives, such as ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ and Chinese Sacred Lily) are the best narcissus to use for growing indoors over water, as they don’t require a true chilling period either. They will take normal room temperatures, although night temperatures below 65 ° F (18 °C) are best, and bloom in 5 to 8 weeks.

Other spring bulbs (crocus, squills, muscaris, tulips, other narcissus, etc.) need serious cold (33 to 40° F/1 to 9 ° C) day and night over quite a long period: usually about 14 week, preferably in the dark in a refrigerator, cold room or barely heated garage. (See Forcing Bulbs Without Twisting Arms for more details.)

And finally, there is the amaryllis (Hippeastrum) that needs no cold or dark treatment at all, just a really big vase, coming into bloom in only 5 to 8 weeks. But forcing amaryllis over water is expensive: they’re not cheap bulbs and forced bulbs bloom only once. I prefer to grow amaryllis bulbs in soil so they can be treated not as throw-aways but as true, long-lived houseplants.

So Simple!

The technique is incredibly easy.

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Just add water and place the bulb in the vase. Source: http://www.gardenersworld

Fill the container with fresh water up to the neck and place the bulb, pointed side up, just inside the container, where the neck narrows. The base of the bulb should barely touch the water. Then set the container a cool, dark place.

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Roots start to form within days. Source: www.gardenersworld.com

Roots form quickly and reach down into the water. You can let the water level drop considerably once roots are present: they don’t have to be entirely in water, just at least dip into water. Still, take a look every three or four days, adding more water as needed, as bulbs are thirsty creatures and the container should never dry out completely.

When a healthy sprout has formed, the container is filled with roots and the minimum number of weeks has elapsed, the plant can be exposed to light and heat. Flowering then occurs quickly: often starting in barely a week.

When the bulb stops blooming, clean the container and put it away for next year, then drop the bulb into the compost. Being grown over water will have completely exhausted it and it won’t bloom again. Don’t even think of adding fertilizer to the water to “feed” the bulb for another flowering: it will be in no better shape … and your container will quickly fill with algae.

Forcing in Pebbles and More

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You can use pebbles or the substrate of your choice. Source: linaloo.typepad.com

You can also easily force bulbs in pebbles or any other fairly inert substrate, such as gravel, clay hydroculture pebbles, seashells, marbles, etc. This is, in fact, still considered forcing over water, as the substrate provides only holds the plant up: it’s the water that makes it grow.

Any decorative container with no drainage hole will do, although a transparent container will make your life easier, because you’ll not be able to see the roots growing (fascinating) and also better monitor the water level. Just drop substrate into the bottom of the container to a depth of anywhere from an inch  (2.5 cm) to 5 inches (13 cm) or more. Roots will grow into this layer.

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Fill the bottom with substrate, then add bulbs. Source: www.younghouselove.com

Set the bulbs on the substrate. For the most beautiful flowering, fit as many bulbs into the container as it can hold and, although you’ll read otherwise elsewhere, yes, the bulbs can touch! For added solidity, fill the interstices between the bulbs with more substrate, leaving on the tip of the bulbs exposed. Now add water up to the base of the bulbs and place the container somewhere cold and dark. Soon roots will form and the forcing is underway!

All that’s left is to check every now and then, topping up with water as needed, then bring the pots into the light and warmth when the bulbs are ready (see above).

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The Paperwhite narcissus is the most common bulb grown in pebbles. Here, in seashells! Source: www.dutchgrown.com

All bulbs suitable for forcing over water are also suitable for pebble forcing, but the Paperwhite narcissus is the most popular for this use.


There you go! A simple little fall project that will bring gorgeous (and often scented) bloom into your home or office during the dark days of winter and early spring. Why hesitate? Just do it!

Leave the Leaves Alone: Nature Group Tells Canadians Not to Rake Their Lawns*

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Don’t rake your lawn: those leaves are still useful. Source: ksenvironmental.com.au

*Yes, I know I’ve written about not cleaning up gardens and lawns in the fall before, in fact just a few weeks ago, but in the past I’ve always felt like the voice of one crying in the wilderness: I seemed all alone in promoting this simple yet effective environmentally friendly gardening tip. This fall (2018), though, it seems like everyone is jumping on the “leave your lawns and gardens alone in the fall” bandwagon. The text below is taken from a CBC Canadapress release. Thanks to Gabriel Martin for pointing the release out to me.

Good news for the lazy: Canada’s leading conservation group is asking people not to rake their lawn.

“It’s good news if you don’t like raking the leaves because leaving them on the ground is the environmentally friendly thing to do,” said Andrew Holland, a spokesman for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

He said the leaves provide a space for many small creatures to survive the winter.

“They provide habitat for butterflies, moths and different kinds of insects that can overwinter under the leaves. It’s also good for frogs and toads. The insects that overwinter provide food for birds in the spring,” he said.

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Letting your garden be in the fall is like putting out a bird feeder. Source: Dan Pancamo, Wikimedia Commons

Dan Kraus, the NCC’s senior conservation biologist, said people can also help migratory and resident birds survive winter by not clearing up their gardens.

“Fruits and seeds that remain on flowers and shrubs are a crucial food source that sustains many songbirds, such as goldfinches, jays and chickadees,” said Kraus.

“Overwintering insects in our yards also provide an important food source for birds. Providing winter habitats for our native birds and insects is just as important as providing food and shelter during the spring and summer.”

Holland said if you’re worried about smothering the lawn or having clogged gutters, the leaves can be tucked under bushes or in other areas away from your house.

“These leaves provide good mulch for shrubs and help prevent the freeze/thaw cycle in the roots through the winter,” he said.

“You want to reduce your leaf clutter to dime-size pieces. You’ll know you’re done when about half an inch of grass can be seen through the mulched leaf layer. Once the leaf bits settle in, microbes and worms get to work recycling them,” the website states.

When Houseplants Are Unwilling to Branch

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An avocado plant will grow straight for the ceiling: it’s very reluctant to branch. Source: www.reddit.com

Have you ever noticed that certain houseplants branch abundantly, all on their own, growing nice and full, while others just grow straight upwards, without a branch to be seen? The latter are often cutest in their youth, when they’re still fairly squat or have lower leaves covering the upright stem, but then become lanky as they mature.

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A cane dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia seguine, syn. D. amoena) will head right to the ceiling without producing a single branch if you let it! Source:  www.flowershopnetwork.com.

Often these species—such plants as the avocado (Persea americana), false aralia (Dizygotheca elegantissima, now Pierandra elegantissima), schefflera (Schefflera actinophylla), rubber tree (Ficus elastica) and money tree (Pachira aquatica)—grow as forest trees in the wild: they’re genetically programmed to stretch upwards until they make it through the shady forest understory into the sun, then they start to branch. They don’t seem to realize that, in your home, the best light is in the lower to middle reaches and they’ll only find disappointment (and the ceiling!) if they continue to grow upwards.

Then there are other houseplants that, without necessarily being forest trees, only begin to branch after they bloom for the first time … which, since indoor conditions are rarely equal to what they would have received in the wild, can be years away. That’s the case with such plants as the mother-of-thousands (Kalanchoe daigremontiana) and the Madgascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei). (The latter, I hasten to point out, is not a true palm, but in the dogbane family (Apocynaceae).

Others, though, just seem to be naturally branchless, even at maturity. The Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema spp.) and the cane dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia seguine) fall into that category.

What to do with such reluctant branchers?

Look for Self-Branching Cultivars

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Todays’s coleus tend to stay short and rounded without pinching, a far cry from the ungainly bare-stemmed coleuses of fifty years ago. Source: www.jparkers.co.uk

Sometimes plant hybridizers have helped home gardeners by developing self-branching varieties. The old-fashioned coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides, syn. Solenostemon scutellarooides and Coleus blumei) used to be a very reluctant brancher, but most modern varieties ramify abundantly. The same goes for the zonal geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum): most modern varieties produce lots of branches. There are even basal branching varieties of the old “straight-to-the-ceiling” dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia spp.) if you look a bit and even a branching form of the Madgascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei ramosum).

Off With Their Heads!

Normally, though, if you want to stimulate branching, a bit of pinching or pruning will be necessary.

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By cutting the top off this avocado plant, you’ll help encourage it to branch. Source: syntk.wordpress.com

Once you cut off the top of a plant, either only its terminal bud (by pinching) or a few inches of stem (with pruning shears), this will inhibit apical dominance, a hormonal control that tells the plant not to branch, freeing dormant buds lower down on the stem to begin to develop. Sometimes this only results in a single new stem being formed (the avocado, for example, is very reluctant to branch), but if you repeat it, you can often get a second stem at least. And, as new branches develop, you’ll probably need to “clip their tip” after a year or so to force them to branch as well.

Don’t be afraid to try! You can chop the top off just about any houseplant that has an upright stem … except palms. True palms simply don’t branch (except under very rare circumstances, not likely to occur in your home), although some do produce offsets at their base. So, leave palms alone and feel free to cut back everything (and I do mean everything) else.

You can, by the way, root the tops of plants you cut off. Yep, just grow them like any other cutting! Or you can try air layering: slower but often even more effective.

The More, The Merrier

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By planting several non-branching plants (here, Aglaonema ‘Silver Bay’) in the same pott, you can create an attractive, fuller look. Source: bloomscape.com

For a quicker fix, try planting several reluctant branchers together in the same pot. This will give them a naturally fuller look that can last for years. Nurseries regularly do this with such plants as Chinese evergreens, false aralias and dracaenas (Dracaena spp.). When these plants in shared pots do begin to look ungainly, just cut the top off all of the stems and they’ll all resprout from lower down, re-establishing the dense look.


Yes, you can prune or repot most houseplants to get them to put on the dense growth you want … or you can just let them grow in their usual awkward beanpole way until the ceiling interferes. You choose!