The Block Island Times
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Gardening Times: Inside and outside

By Fred Nelson | Dec 19, 2012
Photo by: Fred Nelson An African violet.

As of this past week or so, we have experienced some pretty nice weather for this time of year. We have not yet had a killing frost so most cold-hardy crops such as lettuce, cabbage, brussels sprounts, carrots and beets should be doing well. This certainly won’t continue much longer.

In the meantime, now would be a good time to do some basic pruning on deciduous shrubs or trees. Without leaves one can easily see branches that could be pruned to improve the appearance — and health — of some of these plants.

Quite often in households, there is a difference of opinion between family members as to what, why or whether to prune. I suggest that the person who is afraid of cutting go shopping, so the other member can get out the pruning tools and get to work. Once pruning is done, that's that — there's no undoing it.

Basic cuts to pruning include:

With Y-shaped branching, cut out the weaker branch so that the next storm won’t split the tree or shrub;

Branches that tend to grow towards the center of the plant should be pruned out, as this opens the plant to allow improved penetration of sunshine into the plant;

Branches that droop down and are a hazard to walking or mowing underneath them should be removed;

Sucker growth, those sprouts that tend to grow along a major branch, should be cut out as they will only develop into more “brush” to clutter the plant as well as possibly harboring insects and retarding air flow that might influence conditions favorable to disease.

The spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, spiraea, azalea, rhododendron are best pruned immediately after flowering.

House plant 101

I’m quite sure that most gardeners are familiar with the multitude of house plants that help to provide interest during the winter months. We grow a few that are pretty easy to care for that I would like to suggest for consideration.

One is an oxalis. This grows from bulblets, has attractive dark purple leaflets of three and flowers with delicate pinkish-white flowers. We found this plant years ago in a Florida flower shop and every once in awhile it shows up in local shops. It grows up to 8 to 10 inches high. It is almost impossible to kill.

Visitors usually want to know what the plant is. To show how resilient this plant is, one large one that we have on the porch during the summer goes in the basement of the cottage for the winter before the first frost, and can be forgotten until spring time. By spring, the leaves have all dried down, but once watered it comes back to life with a flourish. It is easily divided, and outside of an occasional feeding and regular summer watering, is carefree.

Another easily grown plant is called Swedish ivy (Plectranthus oertendahlii) A good example of this is in the entrance to the Community Center building, where it has thrived almost to the point of neglect. It is a trailing plant with shiny green leaves that may be used as hanging plant and doesn’t require sunshine. The more that you pinch the terminal growth tips, the more dense the plant becomes. If left unpinched the terminal shoots will develop small whitish flowers, although they are not too attractive. Terminal cuttings about 2 to 3 inches long root easily in most soil mediums.

African violets (Saintpaulia) are a stable, dependable flowering plant that will thrive with just a bit of care of occasional feeding and watering. They don’t require sunshine and should flower all year long. Wherever you place them, their form will be better if you turn the pot around from time to time. There is a myriad of colors to choose from and they are easily propagated from leaf cuttings.

A fourth suggestion for a house plant is the family of “Thanksgiving” or “Christmas” cacti (Schlumbergera truncata). The difference between the two cacti lies in the stem structure. On the Thanksgiving cactus, each stem section has two to four sharp teeth along the margins and at their corners. On the Christmas cactus, the apexes of the leaf joints are without sharp teeth.

The Thanksgiving cactus blooms earlier than the Christmas cactus. We have Thanksgiving cacti and they have bloomed during late November and into December. We put the pots out after frost in the spring and don’t bring them indoors until late fall, before any frost. They come in different colors from white through pink and red shades. They are easily propagated by breaking off sections of the stems and setting them in a sandy soil mix. I have also found that setting directly into a potting soil works just fine.

To fertilize our house plants I have been using Miracle-Gro liquid Houseplant Food. This is an 8-7-6 formulation. I use a quart bottle of water with 10 to 20 drops, as directed. It seems to work well for me.

“I could go on and on. But that is just what gardening is, going on and on.”

—Margery Fish, "We Made a Garden" (1956)

 

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