HOW TO GROW HOLLYHOCKS FROM SEED



Hollyhocks are a mainstay of the traditional cottage garden. In fact, so close is the association to this particular garden style that they can be accused of 'by proxy' typecasting.

Why? Because they are so iconic to that particular setting, they are almost never used in any other garden design - and that is a real shame!

Massive leaves, enormous height, and flowers as numerous and as colorful as anything that you will see in a tropical rain forest.

Therefore, gardeners need to see past their preconceptions and realize that this highly impressive yet inexpensive plant can be a star performer in any garden, so long as it is planted in the right place.

Growing Hollyhocks from seed

The easiest way to grow Hollyhocks from seed is to grow them outside in shallow drills 9 inches apart, in June or July.

Once they have germinated they can either be thinned out and left where they are or allowed to grow on until September or October where they can be lifted and planted into their final position at a distance of 24 inches apart.

If you want to get an early start then you can sow your hollyhock seed indoors as early as February.

Hollyhock seedling - Image credit mytinyplot.com
To begin with, sow seeds onto the surface of a good, free-draining, damp, good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Potting'.

Cover the seed with a very fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Place in a propagator or seal container inside a polythene bag at a temperature of 15-20C (59-68F) until after germination which usually takes 14-21 days. Do not exclude light as this helps germination.

Alternatively, sow in late summer in a cool greenhouse and then overwinter plants in cool, well-lit conditions. Plant out the following spring. This method produces larger plants and is recommended if the soil is heavy or badly drained.

Transplant seedlings when large enough to handle into trays or 7.5cm (3in) pots. Gradually acclimatize plants to cooler conditions for a few weeks before planting out after all risk of frost 45cm (18in) apart.

Hollyhock cultivation

Hollyhock flowers are borne in long succession on tall stems up to 3 meters high. They come in a range of rich and delicate colours, from the deepest crimsons and maroons, to blush pinks, whites and pale yellows.

Most hollyhocks are technically biennials - producing leaves the first year and flowers the next. However they will often last longer than two years and so can be described as short lived perennials.

Hollyhocks love a deep, rich, loamy soil - but they will often thrive without it. Because of their height, plant hollyhocks in a sheltered position, but if this isn't possible then they will need to be staked for support. Water freely during dry weather and apply and annual mulch of well rotted manure in the autumn.

There is a long succession of flowers, and as the lower blooms fade they can be picked off so that the plant is not weakened by producing seed.

TOP TIP. When flowering is over for the season the plants may be cut down to about 15 - 20 centimeters high and the stump covered with wood or coal ashes - if available. This will help to keep the slugs and snails away, allow water to drain away from the soft stem, and keep your hollyhock plants going  for several more years that you could otherwise expect.

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Agapanthus 'Black Pantha'
Agave
Aquilegia 'Chocolate soldier' seeds
Aquilegia 'Firecracker'seeds
Dracunculus vulgaris - The Dragon Lily
HOW TO GROW THE FRANGIPANI TREE- Plumeria rubra var. acutifolia
PERSICARIA VIRGINIANA
HOW TO GROW RUDBECKIA FROM SEED
How to Grow the Sago Palm from Seed
The Eyeball Plant
THE LESOTHO RED HOT POKER - Kniphofia caulescens
The Monkey Puzzle Tree - Araucaria araucana
THE ORCHID PRIMULA - Primula vialii
THE SEA HOLLY - Eryngium × Oliverianum
The Swaddled Babies orchid - Anguloa uniflora 
Trachelospermum jasminoides
What has the Christmas cactus got to do with Christmas?

THE JAPANESE ANEMONE




With high summer temperatures just around the corner, most peoples gardens are starting to run out of steam, and that includes many public and pay-to-enter private gardens. This is of course perfectly natural, after all, northern European plants flower in the spring. That way they have enough time over the summer to produce and ripen their fruit so that it is ready for seed dispersal in the autumn. As we all should know, autumn is natures time for sowing seed.

Image credit - http://kootation.com/
However, one plant at least seems determined to create its own flowers show and that is the utterly beautiful Japanese anemone - Anemone hupehensis

Although commonly called the 'Japanese anemone', Anemone hupehensis is in fact a native to central China, though it has been naturalised in Japan for hundreds of years.

The species was first named and described in Flora Japonica (1784), by Carl Thunberg who had collected dried specimens while working as a doctor for the Dutch East Indies Company. However it was the great plant hunter Robert Fortune who brought this lovely plant to England from China in 1844. During his explorations he noted that he often found Anemone hupehensis planted about Chinese graves.

How to grow the Japanese Anenome

Image credit - www.bookishgardener.com
These plants thrive best in shady areas and under protection of larger plants, and in all but the hottest and the driest conditions in the United States. They are especially sensitive to drought or over-watering, so plant into any good well-drained, but moisture retentive soil. In dry soils, moisture holding can be improved by mixing in perlite or vermiculite into the ground before planting.

Anemone hupehensis can be invasive or weedy in some areas, throwing out suckers from the fibrous rootstock, to rapidly colonise an area. Once established they can be extremely difficult to eradicate. On the other hand, they can take some time to become established.

Cut the stems down to ground level after flowering.

How to propagate the Japanese anemone

Sections of anemone roots - Image credit www.artistsgarden.co.uk
These plant are easily propagated through division between October and March, but this shouldn't be undertaken until after the parent plant had has a chance to establish itself for several years.

Alternatively, root cuttings can be taken between November and January.

Insert 1-2 inch sections into pots containing equal parts of peat and sand by volume. The cuttings should be about 2 inches apart so that the horizontal cut surface at the top of the root is just below the surface of the compost and top dress with a 3/8 inch layer of grit.
Water the compost lightly and place the pots in a cold frame.

In the following spring, pot up individually when the cuttings show signs of growth and are well rooted. Grow plants on and plant out the following year.

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HOW TO GET RID OF VINE WEEVILS


As garden pests go, the hatred that gardeners have for vine weevils is right up there along with slugs and aphids. But it’s not just the amount damage they cause that is the problem, it is the sneaky way they go about it.

Vine weevil dame on Rhododendron - Image credit www.nemasysinfo.co.uk
The adult vine weevil – in between making a significant number of unsightly, irregular notches in the sides of your plants leaves - will lay their eggs in the soil at the base of their preferred plants so that the larvae can munch their way through the root system - completely unnoticed - until your plant topples over in a unrecoverable heap.

Unfortunately, not only is this often the first symptom you'll come across, it is usually far too late to do anything about it.

Although there are a number of effective chemical treatments available, perhaps the most well known being Provado (active ingredient Thiacloprid), they all have one major downfall. They are all non-specific, and therefore able to kill off beneficial pollinating insects such as lacewings and butterflies. More importantly they will kill bumble and honey bees just as easily as vine weevils.

The active ingredient will last in the plants vascular system for approximately 6 weeks, so if you must use chemical controls for Vine weevil, make sure that the plant is not going to be in flower over this time period.

BIOLOGICAL CONTROL

This can be a very effective method of control on infected pot grown stock where both the roots and the larvae are localised. Parasitic nematodes, which occur in minute numbers naturally in the soil, are watered into the growing medium in very large numbers.

Surprisingly it is not the nematodes that kills the larvae directly but a particular strain of bacteria that they carry which will infect the vine weevil larvae, killing it.

The nematodes then invade the body to feed on the contents and breed. The bacteria are very host specific and have no effect on mammals, reptiles, or earthworms.

HAND PICKING
.
For the extremely environmentally conscious gardener, you can actually go out and collect vine weevil adults yourselves although this will have to be done after dark when the adult vine weevils are active. Wait a couple of hours after sunset then, taking a torch, you should be able to see the vine weevils feeding off the leaves. Simply knock them off into a container and either kill them or – for the squeamish - release them far away from your prized plants.

Adult vine weevils hide in debris around the bases of your plants so try to keep the area immediately under them free of dead, fallen leaves and reducing the number of places that they can hide.

PHYSICAL BARRIERS

As the adult vine weevil will lay its eggs in the soil at the base of its preferred plants you can consider using physical barriers such as landscape fabric or Mypex to prevent the newly hatched larvae from entering the soil.

This is a simple yet effective method that will deter the adults from laying eggs preventing further insect damage.

You can also try sprinkling a layer of grit thickly around the plants that are already affected but you will need to act as quickly as possible for best results.

ENCOURAGING NATURAL PREDATORS

Hedgehog - image credit www.overthegardengate.net
This is the best ‘Lazy Gardeners’ option as all of the hard work if done by the surrounding wildlife.

We are lucky in this country as there are a number of native predators that will make short work of both adult and larval vine weevils, it is just a matter of encouraging them into your garden.

The easiest way is to provide a wildlife pond and or log piles.

This will attract a number of very useful mammals, amphibians and predatory insects in to the garden which will feed on vine weevils, but it doesn't stop there as they will also devour other garden pests such as slugs and snails.

Below is a list of the most commonly found native animals which – among other garden pests – will also eat vine weevils.

The common frog
The common shrew
The common toad
Hedgehogs and ground beetles

Unfortunately there are no natural predator's that will eat the larvae - birds included - as they are too deep in the soil to reach.

For more information click on the headings below:

THE 'HOOKER'S LIPS' PLANT

Image credit - www.odditycentral.com




Looking like it should be on the cover of a Rolling Stones album, the Hooker's Lips plant - Psychotria elata is a genuine flowering plant and definitely not a random, photo-shopped image designed to fool innocent web surfers.

Hooker's Lips true flowers - image credit www.amusingplanet.com
Native to the tropical forests in places such as Costa Rica and Colombia, the Hooker's Lips plant is a small tree that uses its vibrant, red flowers to attract insect pollinators, but more specifically hummingbirds.

Relatively little is known about the Hooker's lips plants, although its habitat is usually found at an elevation of 400 meters and growing in damp soils that can be prone to water-logging.

Unfortunately this extraordinary plant has become endangered due to the uncontrolled deforestation in its native homelands.

The 'lips' are not the plants true flowers, they are in fact modified leaves known as bracts.

Sadly, these bracts are only kissable for a short while, before they spread open to reveal the plant’s real flowers.

For more information click onto:
THE CALIFORNIAN POPPY- Eschscholzia californica
The Glory Lily - Gloriosa rothschiliana
THE HAPPY ALIEN PLANT - Calceolaria uniflora
THE HIMALAYAN FOXTAIL LILY - Eremurus himalaicus
The Hooker's Lips Plant
HOOKER'S LIPS PLANT - Psychotria elata
The Oriental Poppy
The Marlborough Rock Daisy - Pachystegia insignis
The Plant Hunters
TURK'S CAP LILY - Lilium martagon

HOW TO GROW CROCOSMIA

Image credit -  www.botanicalgarden.ubc.ca


If you live in a northern European climate then hardy, truly red flowering plants are going to be in short supply. Therefore, if you are making up a top ten list (if you can find that many) Crocosmia species are a very easy win, and should be right a the top of the list.

Image credit - en.wikipedia.org
Native to the grasslands of southern Africa, Crocosmia species grow from small corms which produce upright, sword-shaped leaves and branched spikes of showy, funnel-shaped flowers in summer.

They are a good source of nectar for beneficial insects, but where they are grown in the southern United States they make a popular feed plant for hummingbirds!

One of the most popular cultivated varieties is Crocosmia 'Lucifer'. It is a hardy, clump-forming, perennial with sprays of vivid red flowers on stems to 1.2m in height. However, if you want an even deeper red then then consider Crocosmia 'Hellfire'.

Crocosmias require open, sandy, well-drained soil, but come the summer they are going to need plenty of water.

If you are planting corms in the spring, plant them 4-6 inches apart and 2-3 inches deep to form makeshift clumps. They will prefer the south side of a sheltered wall, or among groups of shrubs and perennials.

Crocosmias are easily propagated through division, removing offsets from the corm in the spring.

How to overwintering Crocosmia

Crocosmia corms - Image credit www.growsonyou.com
In particularly cold areas you may wish to lift the corms, remove the soil and leaves and dry off over winter in a frost free environment.

 Storage can be difficult because the corms will rot off if kept damp. The trouble is, if they are kept too dry then they can shrivel up and die!

In warmer areas where frosts are unlikely to penetrate down to the corms, the corms can be left in place.

Just cut the dead leaves down to soil level in early March before the new foliage begins to emerge.

For related articles click onto:

HOW TO GROW HOLLYHOCKS


Hollyhocks are a mainstay of the traditional cottage garden. In fact, so close is the association to this particular garden style that they can be accused of 'by proxy' typecasting. Why? Because they are so iconic to that particular setting, they are almost never used in any other garden design - and that is a real shame!

Massive leaves, enormous height, and flowers as numerous and as colorful as anything that you will see in a tropical rain forest.

Therefore, gardeners need to see past their preconceptions and realize that this highly impressive yet inexpensive plant can be a star performer in any garden, so long as it is planted in the right place.

Hollyhock flowers are borne in long succession on tall stems up to 3 meters high. They come in a range of rich and delicate colours, from the deepest crimsons and maroons, to blush pinks, whites and pale yellows,

Most hollyhocks are technically biennials - producing leaves the first year and flowers the next. However they will often last longer than two years and so can be described as short lived perennials.

Hollyhocks love a deep, rich, loamy soil - but they will often thrive without it. Because of their height, plant hollyhocks in a sheltered position, but if this isn't possible then they will need to be staked for support. Water freely during dry weather and apply and annual mulch of well rotted manure in the autumn.

There is a long succession of flowers, and as the lower blooms fade they can be picked off so that the plant is not weakened by producing seed.

TOP TIP. When flowering is over for the season the plants may be cut down to about 15 - 20 centimeters high and the stump covered with wood or coal ashes - if available. This will help to keep the slugs and snails away, allow water to drain away from the soft stem, and keep your hollyhock plants going  for several more years that you could otherwise expect.

For related articles click onto:

THE ELEPHANT EAR PLANT



If you are trying to create a tropical looking garden, but live in a north European climate, a little research will tell you that your options are going to be limited. Cannas, bamboo, and hardy palms are now a mainstay of council planting schemes, so to avoid having a garden that looks almost identical to a local roundabout you are going to need to be a little more adventurous.

This where the exotic, large leaved elephant ear plant comes in. However, there is a problem because there are a number of plants from around the world which have this common name. The two specimens that fit the requirements are species and cultivars of Colocasia and Remusatia.

Colocasia


Colocasia is a genus native to tropical Polynesia and south-eastern Asia. The roots of the Colocasia esculenta are in fact edible and have been cultivated in Asia for more than ten thousand years.

Its common name the 'Elephant's-Ear plant' gets its name from the leaves which can be as large as 60 inches, which are shaped like a large ear or shield.

To get the best out of your plants in the garden they require three fundamental growing conditions, a rich soil, plenty of sun and plenty of water. Be aware that the leaves of Colocasia esculenta are designed to shed water, so even after quite a heavy rain shower it is not uncommon for the soil at the base of the leaves to be bone dry.

It is essential to the plants to get underneath the leaves with a hose and really soak the soil, especially in hot spells. If you hold back on the watering, your once stunning centre-piece will be looking ready for the compost heap!

You will probably find that soon after planting your plants may look as though they have stopped growing or even started dying off! Don't worry as this is quite normal as Colocasia are renowned for suffering from root shock. Keep them watered and in a couple of weeks things return to normal.

The plant can be grown in the ground or better still in large containers. They are grown outside year-round in subtropical and tropical areas but in temperate European regions, they are planted out for the summer and then lifted and stored over winter.

Growth is best at temperatures between 20 to 30 °C (68 to 86 °F), but the plants can be damaged if temperatures fall below 10 °C (50 °F) for more than a few days.

If you have bought your Colocasia as a section of root then plant it in a good sized pot, 10 inches or so, using a good quality compost such as John Innes 'No 3'.

Image credit to www.briansbotanicals.net
You can also add a small handful of growmore, and vermoculite/perlite to improve water retaining qualities. The root tuber is typically planted close to the surface. The first signs of growth will appear in 1 to 3 weeks.

When planting in the borders, the adult plant will need a minimum area of at least 10 sq ft of space. They do best in a compost-rich soil and preferably in the shade so that the soil doesn't dry out so quite so fast. Grow it in the sun and you will need to be on the ball with regards to watering.

The plants should not be left to go dry for too long; if this does happen, the leaves will wilt; watering will allow the plant to recover if done before they get too dry. Periodic fertilization every 2 to 3 weeks with a common plant fertilizer will increase foliage growth.

Remustia

Large leaved, and tropical to the core, the Remustia is an elegant herbaceous perennial that will thrive in reliably moist soils.

Commonly known as 'Hitch Hiker's Elephant Ears', Remusatia is a small genus with few species distributed from East Africa to Yemen, Oman, the Himalaya region and southern and northern Australia.

The 'hitch hiker' part of the common name comes from the way the plant propagates itself. In its native habitat, Remusatia plants propagate by runners that travel just below the ground - known as stolons. These are densely covered with tubercles - bulbils.

Although remusatia are quite capable of flowering and setting seed, their main method of propagation is through the transportation of these bulbils by way of the local wildlife. Tiny hooks on the bulbils attach themselves to any animal or bird that happens to be passing by. When it falls off it has an opportunity to germinate away from the parent plant avoiding direct competition with it.

All Remusatia species have ornamental, oval foliage and in addition several species have showy flowers in summer. When growing for the garden, all Remusatia species are easily cultivated in any rich, well drained soil in partially shaded (summer) to sunny (winter) spot.

The time to plant up your Remusatia tuber is from June onwards once temperatures start to rise to 25°C.

Use a good quality compost such as John Innes 'No 3' but add perlite of vermiculite for better water absorption and drainage, and a handful of bonemeal. Mix in well and then place the tuber just below the surface and water in gently.

As the plant begins to grow watering can be increased.

Several species may go dormant from autumn to spring. Keep dormant tubers on the dry side at a minimum of some 10°C. Get them too cold and wet and they will begin to suffer from fungal diseases.

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LOTUS BERTHELOTII



As far as bedding plants go, Lotus berthelotii is arguably the most exotic of them all. Its soft, delicate foliage hangs like intricately crafted silver chains, while its exquisite flowers glow as though made from exotic, flame-coloured glass sculptures. As you can tell, I absolutely love this plant. But don't just take my word for it as Lotus berthelotii has also been awarded the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society.

Canary Island Chiffchaff
image credit to http://ibc.lynxeds.com/users/christophe-gouraud
In its native habitat of the Canary islands, Lotus berthelotii  is considered to be almost extinct as only a few individuals plants now manage to persist.

In fact, In 1884 it was already classed as "exceedingly rare", its decline blamed on its removal by eager plant collectors.

Its unusual flower design is believed to be an adaptation for bird pollination. It is thought that the original pollinators were sunbirds which had become extinct on the Canary Islands.

However more recent work has shown that these plants are adequately pollinated by non-specialist flower visiting birds, particularly the Canary Islands Chiffchaff.

How to grow Lotus berthelotii

Image credit - http://www.infojardin.com/
Lotus berthelotii is best grown in light, well-drained soils in full sun. However it will tolerate some partial shade in more Mediterranean climates, but you may see a reduction in the density of flowers.

With young plants, pinch out the tips of the stems as this will help to promote branching. Be careful with watering as too much or too little watering typically causes foliage drop.

This species will perform best with even moisture, but allow the top of the soil to dry off  before re-watering.

The best flowering period will occur in the cooler weather of spring and early summer as they will naturally fall in to a period of semi-dormancy to help cope with the hot summer temperatures.

They may even stop flowering altogether over the hottest period, particularly when night time temperatures remain at high levels.

For related articles click onto:

HOW TO GROW REMUSATIA





If you are trying to create a tropical looking garden, but live in a north European climate, a little research will tell you that your options are going to be limited. Cannas, bamboo, and hardy palms are now a mainstay of council planting schemes, so to avoid having a garden that looks almost identical to a local roundabout you are going to need to be a little more adventurous.

This is where Remusatia species and cultivars can come into play. Large leaved, and tropical to the core, the Remustia is an elegant herbaceous perennial that will thrive in reliably moist soils.

Commonly known as 'Hitch Hiker's Elephant Ears', Remusatia is a small genus with few species distributed from East Africa to Yemen, Oman, the Himalaya region and Southern to Northern Australia.

The 'hitch hiker' part of the common name comes from the way the plant propagates itself. In its native habitat, Remusatia plants propagate by runners that travel just below the ground - known as stolons. These are densely covered with tubercles - bulbils.

Although remusatia are quite capable of flowering and setting seed, their main method of propagation is through the transportation of these bulbils by way of the local wildlife. Tiny hooks on the bulbils attach themselves to any animal or bird that happens to be passing by. When it falls off it has an opportunity to germinate away from the parent plant avoiding direct competition with it.

All Remusatia species have ornamental, oval foliage and in addition several species have showy flowers in summer. When growing for the garden, all Remusatia species are easily cultivated in any rich, well drained soil in partially shaded (summer) to sunny (winter) spot.

The time to plant up your Remusatia tuber is from June onwards once temperatures start to rise to 25°C.

Use a good quality compost such as John Innes 'No 3' but add perlite of vermiculite for better water absorption and drainage, and a handful of bonemeal. Mix in well and then place the tuber just below the surface and water in gently.

As the plant begins to grow watering can be increased.

Several species may go dormant from autumn to spring. Keep dormant tubers on the dry side at a minimum of some 10°C. Get them too cold and wet and they will begin to suffer from fungal diseases.

For related articles click onto:

HOW TO GROW COLOCASIA



If you are trying to create a tropical looking garden, but live in a north European climate, a little research will tell you that your options are going to be limited. Cannas, bamboo, and hardy palms are now a mainstay of council planting schemes, so to avoid having a garden that looks almost identical to a local roundabout you are going to need to be a little more adventurous.

This is where Colocasia esculenta cultivars can come into play. Large leaved, and tropical to the core, the Colocasia is an  elegant herbaceous perennial that will thrive in reliably moist soils.

Colocasia is a genus native to tropical Polynesia and southeastern Asia. The roots of the Colocasia esculenta are in fact edible and have been cultivated in Asia for more than ten thousand years.

Its common name the 'Elephant's-Ear plant' gets its name from the leaves which can be as large as 60 inches, which are shaped like a large ear or shield.

To get the best out of your plants in the garden they require three fundamental growing conditions, a rich soil, plenty of sun and plenty of water. Be aware that the leaves of Colocasia esculenta are designed to shed water, so even after quite a heavy rain shower it is not uncommon for the soil at the base of the leaves to be bone dry.

It is essential to the plants to get underneath the leaves with a hose and really soak the soil, especially in hot spells. If you hold back on the watering, your once stunning centre-piece will be looking ready for the compost heap!

You will probably find that soon after planting your plants may look as though they have stopped growing or even started dying off! Don't worry as this is quite normal as Colocasia are renowned for suffering from root shock. Keep them watered and in a couple of weeks things return to normal.

The plant can be grown in the ground or better still in large containers. They are grown outside year-round in subtropical and tropical areas but in temperate European regions, they are planted out for the summer and then lifted and stored over winter.

Growth is best at temperatures between 20 to 30 °C (68 to 86 °F), but the plants can be damaged if temperatures fall below 10 °C (50 °F) for more than a few days.

If you have bought your Colocasia as a section of root then plant it in a good sized pot, 10 inches or so, using a good quality compost such as John Innes 'No 3'.

You can also add a small handful of growmore, and vermoculite/perlite to improve water retaining qualities. The root tuber is typically planted close to the surface. The first signs of growth will appear in 1 to 3 weeks.

Image credit to www.briansbotanicals.net
When planting in the borders, the adult plant will need a minimum area of at least 10 sq ft of space. They do best in a compost-rich soil and preferably in the shade so that the soil doesn't dry out so quite so fast. Grow it in the sun and you will need to be on the ball with regards to watering.

The plants should not be left to go dry for too long; if this does happen, the leaves will wilt; watering will allow the plant to recover if done before they get too dry. Periodic fertilization every 2 to 3 weeks with a common plant fertilizer will increase foliage growth.

How to overwinter Colocasia

No matter how confident you are with overwintering tender plants outside, it really isn't worth trying out your skills on Colocasia as they will almost almost pick up some kind of rot on the leaves which will eventually reach down to the roots.

Therefore your best chance to have Colocasia in your garden year on year is to lift the roots.

First you will need to dig up your plants which you can do before or just after the first frosts. Of course if they have been sunk into the ground while still growing in a suitable pot then all you do is lift the pot.

Lifting before the frosts is the best idea as this will give you a bit more stem to get hold of, making the whole process easier. Also, prior to frosts, the soil is often dryer and this makes it easier to shake off from the plant.

By trimming the roots it is clear to see the new tubers formed at the base of the stem. These can be simply snapped off by hand.

Spread the harvested Colocasia on a surface somewhere warm to dry them out. A number of them may go soft and will need to be discarded. The majority should stay firm and can be stored in bone dry compost until the spring. Keep them cool so they do not begin sprouting immediately.

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Agave

WHAT IS PERLITE?



Come propagation time (which of course can be almost anytime) and you may well find yourself walking along the isles of your local garden center asking yourself,

 '...what the flipping heck is perlite...?'

Green bags filled with what looks like white stone chippings seem to mock your ignorance. Especially when you pick it up to find out more and realize that the bag is empty! Ok, not so much empty, just very, very light.

Image credit to www.perlite.net
Put simply, perlite is an additive used to improve aeration and drainage in rooting mediums, usually a commercial grade compost. A quality that is particularly useful when it comes to propagating plants from seeds and cuttings

It turns out that perlite is a unique volcanic mineral which expands to about 13 times its original volume when it is heated to a temperature of approximately 1600 Fahrenheit - 871 Celsius. During the heating process, the mineral particles pop like popcorn and form a granular, snow-white material that is so light in weight it weighs only about 5 to 8 pounds per cubic foot (80-128 kg/cubic meter).

Image credit - stewardchem.com
Each particle of perlite is comprised of tiny closed air cells or bubbles. The surface of each particle is covered with tiny cavities which provide an extremely large surface area.

These surface cavities trap moisture and make it available to plant roots. In addition, because of the physical shape of each particle or perlite, air passages are formed in the growing media thereby providing excellent aeration.

Horticultural perlite is available in several different grades. The coarse sand size has been used for many general gardening and horticultural applications, but the finer grades work best when used outdoors.

So now you know.

For related articles click onto:
The Secrets to Growing Bonsai
What is Air Layering?
WHAT IS FASCIATION?
What is Perlite?
What is Poison Oak?
What is a Stumpery?

HOW TO GROW THE CALLA LILY



If you want to bring a touch of the tropics into your garden, then you could do a lot worse than growing the stunningly gorgeous calla lily. A native to southern Africa, calla lilies - Zantadeschia species, are a group of species mainly derived from Z. albomaculata,  and despite the name are not actually lilies, or even true callas!

Calla lilies are in fact a genus of half-hardy herbaceous flowering plants from the family Araceae.

The eye-catching and unusually shaped flowers are borne on a spadix at the end of a long stem and surrounded by a large, coloured spathe.

So exquisite and detailed are the pigments produced on the spathe that you can be forgiven for thinking that they have been airbrushed by some unscrupulous grower!

As exotic as calla lilies looks they are relatively easy to grow. The secret is all in the watering!

Growing Calla lilies

You can purchase calla lilies as either pot grown plants in early summer or as sections of root (rhizomes) in the spring. As rhizomes, grow them in 6-10 inch pots containing John Innes 'No 2'. Cover the rhizomes with 2-3 inches of compost and give them a thorough watering. From then on, keep them just on the moist side until the new growth appears.

Calla lily bulbs - image credit to mylifeasalily.wordpress.com
From this point water moderately, gradually increasing the amount as the plants grow. When the plants are in full leaf you need to water copiously - never let the roots dry out!. Feed at weekly intervals from May until August with a liquid soluble fertiliser.

Once flowering is over, gradually withhold the water and give none to Z. pentlandii, Z. elliottiana and Z. rehmanni after mid July.

Zantadeschia pentlandii will need a winter temperature of above 10-12 degrees Celsius to survive, while Z. rehmanni will need 7-10 degrees Celsius.

How to propagate Calla lilies

You can divide the rhizomes and replant, or you can take off-sets when repotting is carried out. Pot  Z. rehmanni rhizomes or offsets in 4 inch pots, or three to a 6 inch pot. Place propagation material from the other varieties singly in 6 inch pots containing John Innes 'No1 or 2' compost.

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THE BLEEDING TOOTH FUNGUS



The Bleeding Tooth fungus - Hydnellum peckii is a rather gruesome looking fungus found in North America, Europe, and more recently discovered in Iran and Korea.

Its most outstanding feature is the blood-like substance that it exudes from the pores, and while it is not toxic, it tastes so peppery and bitter that it is rendered unpalatable! Of course, discovering this information would have required some poor soul to eat it, or at least attempt to eat it - I sorely hope they got paid!

The 'blood' is only really produced by the fungus during its juvenile stage, and contains a pigment known to have anticoagulant properties.

The bleeding tooth fungus is found growing solitary, scattered, or clustered together on the ground under conifers. Research has shown that it has a mutualistic relationship with the roots of certain conifer species, in which the fungus exchanges minerals and amino acids extracted from the soil for fixed carbon from the host.

Remember, while it may look a bit like a jam filled cake - it is not a cake so don't try eating it. The end.

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HOW TO GROW LOBELIA CARDINALIS 'QUEEN VICTORIA' FROM SEED




Native to northern United States, Lobelia cardinalis is an erect, clump-forming herbaceous perennial that can reach an overall height of up to 30 inches.

It prefers a deep, fertile soil in full sun or partial shade.

So copious are it water requirements that it is often grown as a marginal pond plant, though it tends not to thrive in overly, waterlogged conditions.

Lobelia cardinalis tends to weaken after a couple of years growth, but it can be revitalised through propagated by division.

This method is best performed in March.

Be aware though that Lobelia cardinalis is a particular favourite of slugs and snails so make a point of putting adequate protection in place - organic protection of course.

Once the plant has died back in late autumn, cover with a heavy mulch to help protect it against the winter cold.

Growing Lobelia cardinalis from seed

Sow lobelia seed from late winter to mid spring on the surface of a good seed compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' and gently firm down. Place the seed tray in a sealed polythene bag, or a propagator at a temperature of 16-18C (61-64F).

Keep the soil damp but not wet. Do not exclude light as this aids germination which will usually take between 14-21 days.

When seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant and grow them on in cooler conditions until large enough to plant outdoors.

When the young lobelia plants are well grown and all risk of frost has passed, they can be acclimatised to outdoor conditions over 7 to 10 days.

Transplant outdoors in a sheltered position in sun or semi-shade on reliably moist, fertile soil. Lobelia cardinalis copes well with boggy soils and can be planted at the edge of ponds and streams. Just not in the pond or stream.

Cut back old lobelia foliage in autumn and apply a dry mulch of bark chips or straw to protect the crown of the plant during winter.

Caution: Contact with the white sap may irritate the skin and eyes.

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HOW TO GROW AVOCADO


Article by Lee Reich
 
After eating an avocado, it is hard to resist planting its seed. However, to get the seed sprouting quickly you need to be quick as the seed will need immediate planting. Luckily there is a tried and tested method when it comes to growing avocados from seed. This is done by poking three toothpicks into the side of the seed so that it can perch, halfway immersed in water, on the rim of a drinking glass. The seed could also be avocado planted in potting soil, but this misses some of the fun of watching the roots and the shoots grow.

Avocado roots, like those of most other plants, need oxygen to grow, so the seedlings would actually grow better in soil than in water. When growing a seedling in water, the water should be changed at least every couple of days to prevent it from getting dirty and depleted of oxygen. One way to speed germination in soil is to remove the parchment like seed coat and slice a thin layer from both the top and the bottom of the seed before planting. In water or in soil, set the seed with its base (the wider portion) down.

Indoors, avocado plants are often gangly and sparse with leaves. One reason for the plant's gawky appearance indoors is lack of light. Lack of sufficient light causes stems to stretch for it, a phenomenon know as etiolation. Another reason is that avocados shed many buds along their stems, buds that might have grown into side branches. The result is a plant stretching out for light, sending out new growth mostly from the tips of the branches and shedding old leaves.

There are several things indoor gardeners can do to keep their plants more attractive. Most obvious is to give your avocado tree brighter, stronger light. Also, the stretch for light is exaggerated when warmth stimulates growth, so the ideal spot for the plant is at the brightest window in the coolest room. Beyond that, pruning back a stem or pinching out its growing tip stimulates branching by awaking dormant buds (not all are shed) further down the stem. There is nothing that can be done about the shedding of older leaves.

Every indoor avocado grower holds out hope for fruit from his or her plant. This is always a possibility, but realistically it is not likely to happen. The time from seed to fruiting under good growing conditions is about a decade. Indoors, this time period is lengthened and plants may never experience good enough conditions to ever flower, let alone ripen fruit.

Lack of fruit on an indoor tree is no great loss, because seedling trees rarely produce fruits as tasty as those on commercial trees, which are grafted to good-tasting cultivars. Indoors, avocados are best looked upon as a house plant that is inexpensive, fun to grow and somewhat attractive.

Growing Avocados outside

The avocado is a tree native to Central Mexico, and are cultivated in tropical and Mediterranean climates throughout the world.

If you want to produce a viable crop from your own avocado tree then you are going to need to have it growing outside. More importantly, it needs to be outside in a climate without frost and with little wind.

High winds reduce the humidity, dehydrate the flowers, and affect pollination. When even a mild frost occurs, premature fruit drop may occur, although the Hass cultivar can tolerate temperatures down to −1°C.

The trees will need well-aerated soils, ideally more than 1 metre deep. be aware that crop yield is reduced when the irrigation water is highly saline.

These specific soil and climate requirements are available only in a few areas of the world. So if you live in one of the following countries then you are in luck.

The countries are southern Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Crete, the Levant, South Africa, Colombia, Peru, parts of central and northern Chile, Vietnam, Indonesia, parts of southern India, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico, California, Arizona, Puerto Rico, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Hawaii, Ecuador and Rwanda. Be aware that each region has different cultivars which have been selected over time to fit the prevailing conditions.

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