Don Kinzler, Published November 15 2013
Growing Together: Growing Wild: Living on horticultural edge thrilling, rewarding
Challenges abound in the world of plants, and many are not for the faint of heart. No one can say gardeners don’t live life in the fast lane.
I enjoy a good challenge, especially when someone says it’s too difficult, or not worth the effort. I may have inherited the trait from my great-uncle, Ernest Kapaun, who re-bloomed an indoor potted azalea years ago, because a university extension horticulturist said it would be too difficult.
Adventures with plants can be divided into several levels of difficulty. Easier projects are tailor-made to foster children’s interest in plants and make great science projects.
FUN AND EASY
• Grow a spider plant until it produces “spiders.” Use a pot on the small side, because they grow offshoots quicker if “pot bound.”
Start a new spider plant by rooting one of the spiders in a glass of water. You can also root them in peat moss and sand, but water allows you to enjoy seeing the new roots sprout.
• Buy a boxed amaryllis kit. Directions say to water and watch them bloom, and it actually works. The flowers are magnificent. Some garden centers sell the large bulbs individually with directions, and you supply your own pot and soil.
• Train English ivy on a circular wire hoop. It may take a year, but it produces a living wreath and teaches us patience. You can buy them already grown this way, but the process is half the fun.
• Set up a fluorescent light fixture for growing plants. Two tubes in a shop-light fixture work great for starting seeds or growing plants like African violets. Special plant lights are not required, although they also work fine.
• Start a pot of salad greens or herbs from seed on a window sill or under lights.
• See to what length you can grow a heartleaf philodendron. My grandmother grew one trained on a twine across a 16-foot dining room.
• Coax your amaryllis to re-bloom the following year after purchase. While the first time from the boxed kit is easy, future blooms are tricky. The secret is to fertilize heavily following bloom to rebuild the bulb’s inner strength, and then give it a dormant rest before re-growing.
• Grow an African violet, and watch it bloom in flushes throughout the year. I consider them good grandmother plants because they respond well to a gentle hand and lots of kind “mothering.”
• A Christmas cactus will grow and bloom for years once you’ve mastered the right conditions. They bloom in response to short day length and cool temperatures.
• A pineapple top cut from a fresh fruit can be placed in a pot of moist sand. It’ll produce roots and grow into a unique houseplant. Allow the surface of the cut-off top to heal for a day before planting.
E Purchase an orchid and learn its needs. They are usually potted in bark chunks rather than soil. When watering, set the pot in a bowl of water for 15 minutes to allow bark to absorb moisture and then remove. Of tropical origin, orchids thrive on extra humidity.
• Instead of discarding Easter lilies when they are finished blooming, allow them to become dormant, then plant in an outdoor flowerbed. They’ll regrow and bloom in late September. Mulch over winter, and they’ll bloom in midsummer each year thereafter.
• Norfolk Island pines abound in stores this time of year. Keep one healthy from year to year by supplying good light and plenty of humidity.
A note of caution: They may look like Christmas trees, but they are tropical. When purchasing one, insist that the store wrap it before they send you out into chilly air with the plant naked, nipped and irreversibly damaged.
Not for faint of heart
• Become one of the gardeners who re-blooms a poinsettia for next year’s Christmas. After Christmas, keep it growing in a sunny window. In early June, sink pot and all into a flowerbed with partial sunshine. They’re chill-sensitive so bring indoors by late August. Beginning Oct. 1, provide a daily 15-hour dark period to trigger flower bract formation.
• Force a pot of tulips indoors. Buy bulbs in late-fall before they’re no longer available. Plant six or more bulbs just touching in a wide flower pot, barely covering the bulb tips with potting mix. Water well, enclose the pot in a plastic bag, and place in the refrigerator for about 12 weeks. As soon as sprouts appear, move to a sunny window.
My list of plant adventures might seem tame to those who prefer wrestling gators down on the bayou, but at least I still have all my limbs intact.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org