The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

March 29, 2015

Growing giant poinsettias for Christmas starts now

Filed under: Flowers,Indoor Gardening — bob @ 2:59 pm

Holidays for horticulturists usually have two dates.  First, there is the actual date that the holiday occurs. The second date is the time when plants associated with that holiday need to be started.

Greenhouse people are beginning to make preparations for Christmas now, in very early spring .

I’m sure you’ve seen giant-sized poinsettias in full bloom during the Christmas season. Did you ever wonder how they managed to get them so big? The secrete is to keep the same poinsettia plants growing year after year.  Each year the plants get bigger and produce more colorful bracts.

If you have a poinsettia that is still alive from Christmas, you can renew it and have a larger more colorful plant for next Christmas.

Start by pinching off all of the leaves and bracts from the plant. Many of them may have already dropped off anyway by now. Next cut the main stem or stems to about six to eight inches above the soil surface. Remove the plant from its pot.

Behind the scenes: A bench of pruned poinsettias in Greenhouse III at University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Behind the scenes: A bench of pruned poinsettias in Greenhouse III at University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens. They are about five years old.

It’s best to carefully rinse the old soil off of the roots and re-pot the plant using new potting mix. Removing the old soil is not absolutely necessary though, I’ve had very good results by simply leaving the existing soil then re-potting into a larger pot. What is necessary however, is using a loose commercial potting mix, not soil from the garden. Poinsettias need loose soil, no ifs ands or buts.

This poinsettia is making good growth after being drastically cut back.

This poinsettia is making good growth after being drastically cut back.

Then water thoroughly — soak the pot with water and let it completely drain out. Never let poinsettias sit in the water that collects in the pot saucer, they just can’t tolerate wet feet.

Put it in the brightest area you have to encourage it to grow. Once you see shoots developing, feed it with a good house plant fertilizer about once a month.

Later, after the danger of frost has passed, place the plant outside in a bright spot that has dappled shade during the hottest part of the day.

As the plant grows through the summer, you can pinch back shoots to help keep a symmetrical shape. Pinching will also stimulate more branching giving the plant a more compact and bushy look.

With some care and luck you’ll have a stunning plant to show off next Christmas.




March 25, 2015

Building a grow light fixture for seedlings using recycled parts

Filed under: Equipment,Seed Starting — bob @ 4:16 pm

There was a small project that I had to get done this week. I needed to add another bank of lights in my seed starting area.

You would think that after so many years as a professional gardener my seed starting room would look like some kind of laboratory complete with stainless steel racks, electronic equipment and all other sorts of really cool stuff. A few years ago when I was starting many thousands of plants, that was pretty much the case. Now days, I’m gardening at a much smaller scale.

My seed starting area is probably much simpler than what the average serious garden has. My general rule for these types of things is to not buy anything fancy or brand new if I can make it myself without sacrificing functionality.

I have a a pair of three foot, single bulb fluorescent light fixtures that I bought for a couple of bucks at a garage sale last fall. My plan was to attach them together to make a single assembly that I can easily adjust up and down depending on the growth of the seedlings.

Florescent light fixtures from a garage sale.

Florescent light fixtures from a garage sale.

There were no florescent tubes when I got them. That actually was a good thing since, over time, the amount of light  florescent bulbs produce dramatically diminishes over time. I didn’t have to dispose of any used bulbs which saved me some hassle. The bad thing was that I only had the seller’s word for it that the fixtures worked.

The first thing I did was open up the case to inspect the innards to be sure there were no wires shorting that could be an electrical hazard — they both looked sound.

The cover protecting the fixture wiring just snaps off and on.

The cover protecting the fixture wiring just snaps off and on.

Next I tested them with my new bulbs and sure enough, they lit up nice and bright.

The bulbs lit fast without flickering.

The bulbs lit fast without flickering.

Fixtures like these usually have pre-drilled holes that are used for mounting onto various surfaces, these were no different. I had some metal drawer brackets in my inventory of useful stuff that I saved from an old dresser. They were the perfect size for joining the two fixtures together.

I used self-tapping sheet metal screws to attach the brackets to the light fixtures.

Self tapping screws means no drilling necessary.

Self tapping screws means no drilling necessary.

I bent pieces of heavy-duty fencing wire to make hangers for each end of the fixture assembly.

Heavy wire bent into shape makes a fine hanger.

Heavy wire bent into shape makes a fine hanger.

The assembly is hanging by leftover ceiling light chain from a section of shelving that someone gave to me.

A section of used plastic shelving hold the light fixture assembly and seedling trays.

A section of used plastic shelving hold the light fixture assembly and seedling trays.

Even if you don’t have parts like I had laying around, recycling center that sell building materials often have fixtures, shelves and other parts for sale at very reasonable prices. I noticed while visiting Recycle Ann Arbor today that they had five nearly new florescent fixtures in stock.

Florescent light fixtures still in their boxes at Recycle Ann Arbor

Florescent light fixtures still in their boxes at Recycle Ann Arbor

For a very modest investment in cash and time I ended up with an additional seedling grow light.





Snow cover helps perennial plants get through winter in great shape

Filed under: Weather — bob @ 4:02 pm

Our second bitterly cold winter in a row is finally over. Even though this winter was not as cold as last year’s, it still made the record books as one of the top twenty coldest. It’s kind of surprising to me how quickly it ended. Just a few days of moderate temperature erased the snow.

The plants in our area look to be in pretty good shape despite those cold temperatures. We can thank the continuous blanket of snow that was covering the ground all winter.

Snow is nature’s insulator. I’ve heard people say they were worried because snow would freeze their plants. I’ve had to point out to them that snow is a gardener’s best friend , especially if you have perennial flowers and small fruit such as strawberries.

Farmers who grow winter wheat — which is planted in the fall — pray each year for snow cover so their wheat crop is not damaged by exposure to cold temperatures and desiccating winter winds.

Despite the fact that I neglected to mulch my strawberries as I usually do, they look to be in great shape.

The garlic I planted last fall looks good too. There was no covering on those either except what nature provided in the way of snow. I got lucky this time skipping the mulch, I don’t plan on ever taking a chance like that again.

The mud season around here was pretty short too, it lasted only a few days. The mud I’m talking about is that mud that forms when the surface layer of the soil thaws but the lower layers are still frozen. That surface water has no where to go so just turns into mud especially if poultry or livestock are walking over it.

Since the soil was not frozen very deep around here — again thanks to the continuous snow cover — it was able to thaw out very quickly.

One other surprise I found was a couple of rows of spinach that were still green and beginning to make good growth. Without that snow, they would have been frozen out way back in November.


The snow cover provided great protection from the harsh winter. A short row of spinach came through in fine shape

The snow cover provided great protection from the harsh winter. A short row of spinach came through in fine shape

It looks like we’ll be eating an early salad from the outdoor garden this year.





February 18, 2015

Time for starting early seeds.

Filed under: Seed Starting,Seeds — bob @ 12:23 pm

This is time of the year when most people are counting down the number of days to the first day of spring. Gardeners  on the other hand, are calculating the number of weeks until the last frost. That date is far more useful for gardeners than the vernal equinox.

At this time, we are somewhere between ten to twelve weeks from our normal last frost. The way the winter is going right now, I’m planning on a later frost date rather than an earlier one. You have to take your best guess as to when it will be safe to plant outdoors months down the road.

The other alternative, which most people choose, is to just let the greenhouse manager worry about frost and buy your plants from him when the time comes. The problem with that is if you want a particular variety that you’ve seen in a catalog or magazine, it may not be available unless you grow it yourself.

So it’s time to sow some seeds, those that need a long time to germinate, grow and develop before setting outside in the garden. My new seed order arrived in the mail Tuesday and in it were some of those seeds I need to sow now.

The first of many seed orders.

The first of many seed orders.

I’m starting just a few vegetables this week: onions, leeks and celery.  I’ve cut back on flowers and am sowing just heirloom petunias and black-eyed Susan. In years past I would have been starting butterfly weed, sweet William, foxglove, and yarrow too.

The peak season for starting the rest of the seeds won’t begin for another three or four weeks.










Mother-in-law’s tongue plant

Filed under: Flowers,Potted Plants — bob @ 9:17 am

Recently I’ve had three people ask me about caring for  their Sansevieria. I took that as a sign that there may be a few more people wondering about the same thing.

Sansevieria, commonly known as mother-in-law’s tongue or snake plant, are probably the most common plant found in people’s homes. I suspect the reason for this is because they survive long after other plants have died from neglect. Therein lies the secrete to keeping a Sansevieria: benign neglect.

Most plants die fairly quickly if neglected. Not so with Sansevieria. Whenever I see a snake plant that has problems, most of the time it’s because its owner watered it too much. During this time of the year watering about once every three weeks is plenty. Water a little more frequently if the plant is in a bright window or greenhouse, a little less if it is in a darker area of the house.

Although they can survive under almost any kind of lighting conditions, full morning sun will help your plant thrive rather than just survive . Continuous bright but not direct light is just as good. I kept one in a bright foyer area for years and it was quite happy there. If your plant’s leaves are flopping over, it may be a sign of too little light.


Mother-in-law's tongue plants do well when their roots are crowded. Note the small size of the pot.

Mother-in-law’s tongue plants do well when their roots are crowded. Note the small size of the pot.

Sansevieria grow under a wide temperature range too. So if you are competing with your most energy efficient neighbors to use the least amount of energy during the winter, don’t worry about hurting your Sansevieria by turning down the thermostat too much, it will do fine in cool, but not cold, conditions. From my own experience I would caution you not to leave your plant in a drafty place when the temperature might go below 40°F for any length of time — low temperatures will cause chilling injury.

Because Sansevieria are grown for their foliage and rarely flower, some people think they are dull and boring. If you are in this group, think about this: NASA scientists have found that Sansevieria has the ability to clean significant amounts of formaldehyde, benzine and other toxic chemicals from the air. So, they’re really not so boring after all.

Fortunately for those who have pets or small children, Sansevieria are non-poisonous however they may cause skin irritation.





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