Five things to do in the garden this week:
1. If you are religious about creating and applying compost to your vegetable plots, you will never have to do much to harvest lush crops year after year. You will never need to dig in the soil where your vegetables grow but simply apply a one-inch layer of compost year after year. You will need to take care to remove everything from the plot prior to laying down the compost but once it has settled into the earth, you can plant. You make compost from a combination of green or fresh garden clippings and fallen leaves or aged garden leftovers. If you don’t have enough raw material to make compost, ask your neighbors if they don’t mind you emptying their green bins into your compost pile.
2. You can prepare potatoes for planting by standing them up in the cells of an egg carton where they receive bright light. In this manner, you chit the potatoes, which means you cause them to sprout. Potato eyes are where chitting occurs, and you can cut the potatoes into plantable pieces where each piece contains at least two chitted eyes, or plant such chitted potatoes whole. If you have kids and want to teach them about how things grow, plant your chitted tubers in a potato grow bag. The bag has a large flap covering a screened window. You roll up the flap to check the progress of your potatoes as they develop in the depth of the bag. When they are ready to harvest, you open the window and extract the potatoes where they grow.
3. Even if it’s a little early to start the spring garden, you can always plant a terrarium indoors. There are two types to consider: one for tropicals and one for desert or succulent plants. In both cases, the terrariums should be made of glass, the difference being that a tropical terrarium will require a lid or plug to conserve humidity, while a desert terrarium should be open and uncovered. Most often, a terrarium is simply a customized aquarium. For a tropical aquarium, select miniature ferns such as button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia), mother fern (Asplenium nidus), and lemon button fern (Nephroplepis cordifolia var. Duffii). Any houseplant soil as well as peat moss or coir would be an appropriate substrate for these plants. As for succulents for your open air terrarium, select from Echeverias, Haworthias, burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum), and panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosum). Use a cactus mix for your soil.
4. You can still plant California poppy seeds. You may be astonished at how small they are. In fact, there are 20,000 of them in one ounce. While you can just scatter the seeds on the surface and gently rake or press them into the soil — and then cover them with a thin layer of compost — if you want to plant them in pots or discrete garden spots, you may want to try techniques that Yvonne Savio (gardeninginla.net), a local gardening maven, recommends for planting small seeds in general. “A lead pencil provides two approaches,” she writes. “For smaller seeds, moisten the lead end, stick it into the seed packet to pick up one or two, and move them to the rooting medium. For slightly larger seeds, use the wet eraser end. A length of wet string also helps for thick sowing – dip it into the seeds and place it on the rooting medium, string and all. The seeds will sprout around the string, and then the string will rot away.” Other small seeds that could be sown in the above manner would include those of lettuce, onions, and carrots, as well seeds of many herbs such as lavender, oregano, and dill, and the dust-like seeds of pansies and foxgloves.
5. As Valentine’s Day approaches, you are likely to see sweetheart plant (Hoya kerrii) at nurseries and home improvement centers. Sweetheart plant is available as a single succulent heart-shaped leaf — several inches wide and tall — in a pot. Buyer beware: Although it is a novelty sure to win your valentine’s heart, sweetheart plant will grow extremely slowly and may not show any new growth for up to two years or more. Furthermore, even if it does eventually sprout more leaves from the base, it will never flower. This is not true of other species propagated from leaves or leaf pieces which will eventually replicate the mother plant from which they were taken in every way. Snake plants (Sansevieria species), for example, may be propagated by detaching one of its long, leathery leaves and, making horizontal cuts every few inches down from the tip, produce a fair number of leaf pieces appropriate for rooting in a cactus mix. Other plants that can be propagated from leaves that will eventually develop into flowering plants include cacti and many succulents — jade plants and kalanchoes notable among them — and large-leafed begonias. If anyone has had success propagating from leaves, please let me know how you did it and which plants were involved.
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