Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bulb Planting Hack Update

planting bulbs tipBack in May I wrote "Bulb Planting Hack" and posted about an experiment I was going to try out when planting tender bulbs in my garden that had to be dug up in the winter. The idea is really simple and I'm sure had been thought of by many gardeners before and I wish it would have occurred sooner to me.

The problem I had in my garden was trying to find bulbs I planted once the foliage had died down. You can easily add plant markers and stakes in the ground to mark where your plants are planted but when you go to dig up the bulbs, tubers or rhizomes you may end up damaging the plant with the trowel or shovel.

It occurred to me that what I need was something that surrounded the bulbs and gave me a visual clue when I was getting close to the bulb. What I did was place one of those plastic baskets that strawberries come in at the grocery store in the ground and then placed my Calla Lily bulbs inside that. You can see an image of what I'm describing at the link above.

A few days ago when I went to lift my Calla Lilies from the ground to store them for the winter I was easily able to locate them in the ground and bring them out of the soil without damaging them as you can see from the photo above. I noticed this also made it easier to locate any offsets or "bulb babies" produced by the plants I did this to. I'm going to do this in the garden again next year and expand it to include more bulbs-but I'll make larger trays with chicken wire so I can add more bulbs and lift them all at once.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Rooting Sweet Potato Vine Cuttings

Rooting Sweet Potato Vine CuttingsThis spring I bought some Ipomoea batatas 'blackie' plants for my container garden and have decided to store the tubers and take some cuttings to try to root the cuttings indoors for next spring. Ipomoea batatas is better known as sweet potato vine or ornamental sweet potato and are related to morning glories and the sweet potato vine flower (see photo at link) has a remarkable resemblance to the morning glories you may have in your garden.

Sweet potato vines are common annuals and are easily purchased for your garden every spring and summer at the garden center but storing the tuber and rooting your own can save you a few dollars a year. Not only is this frugal gardening but you get to practice some plant propagation with a plant that is easy to root.

Rooting sweet potato vine cuttings is very easy and can be done in soil or water without the need for rooting hormones. In this example I'll be rooting sweet potato vine cuttings in water in a glass vase I already own. I removed the lower leafs and simply cut the vine right below a leaf node at a 45 degree angle. A leaf node is the spot where a leaf will or has grown out of the vine or stem of a plant- on the sweet potato vine it is easy to find because it is a small bump or lump in the vine. At this spot is where I expect the roots to form first on the sweet potato vine.

Your sweet potato vine should root within a few days to a week in a warm spot. Make sure to change the water daily or frequently to reduce the chances of bacteria or algae forming in the water especially if it is in direct light. When taking cuttings you should make sure that you're using a clean pair of scissors or a knife.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rooting Christmas Cactus cuttings

Christmas Cactus cuttings, rooting, growingChristmas cactus plants are popular plants during the holidays, they come in a variety of colors and are pretty easy plants to take care of and get to bloom. On my other blog I posted a entry on how to make your Christmas Cactus flower. Once you've managed to make your Christmas cactus flower you may want to move on to taking cuttings from your Christmas Cactus and rooting your Christmas cactus cuttings.

Christmas cacti, or Holiday cacti as they're becoming known, are succulent plants and when you cut or break off a stem you may notice a little bit of liquid or a clear gel leaking from the wound. This is normal, just let your cutting sit out for a day or two so that the end of the cutting begins to dry out. Once your cutting is prepared you can begin the propagation process simply by inserting the cutting into houseplant soil. I use regular houseplant potting soil that I sometimes amend with one third Perlite. Make sure you've inserted at least one segment of your Christmas cactus below the soil level. Keep your cutting in a bright and warm area away from direct sunlight and keep the potting soil moist but not soggy. If you want you can mist your cutting daily to help keep it moist. The cuttings that you took from your succulent plant will wilt and probably even shrivel but you shouldn't be alarmed.

A good sign that your cutting has started to root is the appearance of new growth at the tips of the older leaves. The new growth is smaller and thinner than the older leaves and sometimes a little reddish in color. Once the new leaves have started to grow on your cuttings you'll know that the cutting has started to produce roots below the soil. Once the new leaves start to grow you can begin watering the rooted cutting like normal and exposing it to brighter light.

You may also notice sometimes that leaves from your succulent plants fall or are broken off by accident or even on purpose. When that happens to one of your plants take the opportunity to propagate them and create new plants. Sometimes propagating succulents by leaf cuttings doesn't even require soil. See that entry and the links in the entry and notice how those succulents had started to grow roots without even being in soil.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Snake Plant propagation by leaf cuttings

sansevieria, Snake Plant, Snake Plant propagation
Sansevierias are easy houseplants that are commonly called "Snake Plant" because of the leaf color or "Mother-in-law's tongue" because of the sharpness of the leaves. This plant is native to Zaire and requires moderate watering in the summer and very little in the winter-too much water will cause your plant to start rotting. This low light houseplant can easily be propagated by splitting the offsets from the main plant or taking leaf cuttings.

Snake Plant propagation by leaf cuttings is very simple but is best done with the solid-green variety. Taking cuttings of the variety with the white-yellow edges (variegated forms) will revert and produce plants with all green leaves. The variegated Mother-in-law's tongue is best propagated by making divisions of the rhizome if you want to keep the variegated leaves.

Choose a healthy and green leaf from your Snake Plant to propagate. Cut the leaf into 3-4 inch segments making sure to keep track of which side was the top and which side was the bottom of the cutting. Insert the cuttings into fresh potting soil making sure you have your pieces right-side up. If you accidentally insert the cuttings upside down the cuttings will not strike and grow into new plants. Keep the pot in a bright and warm area away from direct sunlight making sure the soil is moist without getting soggy. In about 3-4 weeks the roots of your snake plant cuttings will start to form but it may take a few months for the leaves of the new plants to start growing. With more time and proper care your Snake Plant can even begin to flower, the flowers are a whitish green color.

Similar post:
How to propagate Eucomis bulbs by leaf cuttings.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How To Repot A Cacti

How To Repot A Cacti, Indoor Gardening
On my other gardening blog I wrote a post explaining how I repot a cactus to give new indoor gardeners an idea on how to do it without getting pricked by the spines. If you haven't seen that post click the link above and read that entry and look at the photo of the cacti that I'm repotting. Follow the instructions on that entry because everything is the same.

The only difference in that repotting example is that I used a strap I fashioned out of newspaper to keep the spines of the cacti from stabbing my hand. The photo above shows how you can use a chunk of Styrofoam to protect your hands from the cactus spines by pressing the spines into the chunk of Styrofoam. If the cacti soil is dry you can easily lift your plant by gently pulling the Styrofoam up and setting your plant into the new pot.

If the cactus doesn't easily lift out of the pot you can place your palm over the barrier and tip your cacti over and slide the pot off. If your cactus is too large or a columnar shape take two pieces and create a "sandwich, " by placing the plant in between the two barriers and lifting the plant out of the pot.

Always make sure that the pieces you use are thick enough so that the spines don't pierce through and go into your skin. When you repot your cactus I suggest you use a terracotta pot and that you only go one size larger when choosing a pot. If you use a pot that is too large you'll have trouble keeping the soil of your plant evenly watered and eventually your plant will suffer.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Non Toxic Slug Control Hack

Garden Slug, How To Get Rid Of Slugs, Non Toxic Slug ControlGarden slugs are a pest that just about every gardener has to deal with. Not only do they leave a gross slime where they walk but they cause plant damage and frustration. For years garden hackers have been discovering non toxic methods of slug control. The following are non toxic methods of slug control and that can be found in your kitchen. Natural -pest control solutions work best in an eco garden or a garden where kids and pets spend a lot of time.

Coffee grounds and egg shells:

Create a barrier for slugs with coffee grounds by pouring them in a circle around plants you are trying to protect. If you aren't a coffee drinker places like Starbucks package and give away coffee grounds to be used in the garden. Similarly save your eggs shells and place the crushed pieces in the same manner as the coffer grounds around the plants you are trying to protect

How this works:

When slugs crawl over the coffee grounds and egg shells their soft undersides are torn and they eventually die before they can cause damage to the plants in your garden. A couple of websites I read in preparation for this post state that it is thought that caffeine is a neuro-toxin to slugs. It is believed that the slugs absorb this as they crawl over the coffee grounds.

Cornmeal and Bran:

Take an empty jar (like a mayonnaise jar) and pour in a few tablespoons of cornmeal inside. Set the jar with the cornmeal on its side near the plants that are being attacked by slugs. The jar keeps the cornmeal dry during rain fall. Bran can also be used but it is pour on the ground near the plants you are trying to protect similar to the eggshells and coffee grounds. The Bran ring will have to be reapplied after rain.

How this works:

Cornmeal is suppose to be a tasty treat to slugs which they will happily eat and eat. Once consumed the slugs swell up and die. Bran is said to absorb the slime that slugs create and since there is no slime the locomotion of slugs is halted.


Pour salt around plants you want to protect or in areas where there is high slug traffic.

How this works:

The salt technique works in the same fashion as Bran in that it is suppose to dry out slugs and cause eventual death. The problem with this hack is that adding salt can damage your soil and plants so this should be done sparingly if at all.

The "Beer Plate":

This is probably the older garden hack related to slugs control. Bury an empty aluminum pie plate just below the soil surface and fill 75% full with cheap beer.

How this works:

Slugs are said to be attracted to the yeast and barely in the beer and will happily crawl into the plate to drink and eventually drown. Because beer is a liquid you may have to check on the plate daily and refill as necessary.

How To Save Sunflower Seeds Hack

How To Save Sunflower Seeds, Saving Sunflower SeedsOn an entry title When I collect Purple Coneflower Seeds I blogged about the problems faced when trying to collect seeds from plants when birds are present. In the comments section another garden blogger and I discussed using cheesecloth to cover some seed heads to protect them from hungry birds.

When trying to save sunflower seeds from hungry birds it is a good idea to allow them to eat some and use different measures to protect a few heads so you have seeds to trade or sow in the spring. Wrapping the sunflower head after the seeds have set with cheesecloth is a good idea but you can also use nylon stockings that are pretty cheap or even free if you have women in your home. The material stretches and with one piece you can cover numerous seed heads in your garden and keep the birds from eating your seeds. I like to save the twist ties that come with garbage bags or loaves of bread from the grocery store to use around the garden. In this instance I used my supply of twist ties to close any openings in the nylon stockings and assure a tight fit.

Another garden hack that gardeners have been using for a long time is attaching strips of mylar balloons and old CDs to plants and trees. The theory behind using these in the garden is that birds and other garden critters are scared off my the reflective surfaces and movement. Some gardeners swear by this while others report that they have no effect or after a while the birds become accustomed to the movement and reflective qualities of the CDs and mylar strips. When trying to save sunflower seeds from birds or other garden critters your success rate may depend on how well you can combine humane and natural methods like these.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Removing Purple ConeFlower Seeds Hack

Purple Coneflower Seed Head, Perennials, Purple Coneflower seedsOn my main gardening blog I posted an entry titled When I Collect Purple Coneflower Seeds that has a photo of what a ripe Purple Coneflower seed head looks like. On another of my gardening blogs I posted an image to help identify the Purple Coneflower Seeds. If you are looking for help in identifying the seeds of a Purple Coneflower or want to know when it is time to collect the seeds look over those two entries on my gardening blogs.

Once you've learned how to identify a ripe seed head and you remove it from your Purple Coneflower plant you'll notice that the seed head is very hard and sharp. The easiest way to remove the seeds from the seed head is to break the cone by crushing it in your hand. I don't recommend you do this with your bare hands to avoid injury- make sure to wear gloves to do this. I find standard gardening gloves aren't thick enough to keep the spiky head from puncturing your skin so I use standard leather work gloves.

Another way to remove the seeds without injuring yourself is to collect the seed heads after you've had some rain or soaking the seed heads overnight in plain water. When the seed heads are wet you can easily pull the head apart and let the seeds and chaff fall on a paper plate or sheet of newspaper. Make sure to spread them out and let them dry for a couple of days so your seeds don't get moldy if you use these methods.

Coneflowers are easy garden perennials to start from seed. You can sow them directly in your garden or start them in a seed starter you make out of a plastic soda bottle. Your Purple Coneflowers will bloom the year after they germinate.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bulb Planting Hack

Since most of my favorite bulbs are too tender for my garden and would probably die over the winter here in Chicago I need to be able to plant them and later find them. The problem is that once fall comes around I sometimes forget about where I placed them. This year I have been using things like this strawberry basket from the grocery store.

By placing them inside of something like this basket I can plant them and in the fall when they are ready to be lifted I can find them easily simply by locating the basket. You can also create something similar out of chicken wire to use for your summer bulbs in the garden or place the bulbs you have to lift in large enough pots.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Direct Sowing-Gardening Terms Hacked

Direct sowing has to be the easiest and least expensive method of seed starting for any garden. When you don't have time to make soda bottle greenhouses or use the sandwich bag method or don't want to spend money on buying soil or peat pellets direct sowing your seeds is the way to go. Simply sow your seeds according to the recommendations for planting depth and spacing in your garden or container garden where you would like for your plants to grow. Many of my seeds that require stratification I will just place in the ground where I want them to grow and will let the natural freeze-thaw-cycle do the work for me. There really isn't a more fool proof method of seed starting than direct sowing.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Amaryllis Seeds-Update

This weekend my seed pod on my Amaryllis split open and I was able to collect the seeds. As you can see from the photos the seeds are very thin almost paper like and dark. Amaryllis seeds always remind me of Hosta seeds and from my experience they're very easy to germinate.

If you're interested in propagating your Amaryllis or pollinating your Amaryllis you can see this entry on Amaryllis pollination here in the Garden Hacker blog. I don't know what I'm going to do with so many Amaryllis seedlings but I'm sure I'll find room for them somewhere.

Here's a video I made showing you how to pot an Amaryllis Bulb.

and one showing you how to pollinate an Amaryllis flower.

You can also visit my Amaryllis Bulbs blog where the content is exclusively about growing Amaryllis bulbs. 

Monday, March 12, 2007

Plant Labels Hack

I was in the greenhouse of a local garden center and came across these plant labels from Ferry Morse the other day. The price is pretty steep when you consider that they're just thin pieces of plastic and you could easily make your own plant labels to keep track of your growing houseplant collection or the seeds you start making mini greenhouses out of used soda bottles. You can make something similar and just as useful by cutting the tops and bottoms off of your gallons of milk or soda bottles and cutting the sides into strips.

If you have kids around then you probably buy a lot of Popsicles and throw away a lot of the wooden sticks. Rinse the sticks off and set them aside to dry and then you can use them as plant labels. Or you could buy a bag of the wooden sticks in crafts stores or dollar stores in your area. A local dollar store sell them 100 sticks for a dollar which is a lot cheaper than these cost.

Don't throw away your mini-blinds as they can also be cut up into strips and be used as plant labels. One mini-blind can produce hundreds of plant labels that could last you for a very long time. If you aren't redecorating your home check out any junk shops or garage sales near you for used mini-blinds, they can easily be cleaned and serve a purpose in your garden instead of taking up space in landfills.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Instant Soup Cups-Hack

I've found myself throwing away a lot of these instant soup cups lately because we have guests and they eat these like crazy. It's not unusual to throw away 10 or more of these cups in one day around here. The other day as I was taking out the garbage and they kept falling out of the bag and it dawned on me that these sturdy cups have a use for gardening.

Take a sharp pencil and poke holes in the bottom and you can use these to start your gardening seeds until they grow big enough to transplant into larger gardening pots or into your garden. If you're propagating plants fill it with your favorite brand of potting soil and stick your cuttings in these and cover them with a clear plastic bag to trap humidity. They're sturdy enough to use for starting seeds under grow lights if you have an indoor garden light set up.

If you're an indoor gardener and have small potted plants in a window that may be too cold in the winter place the potted plant inside (make sure you poke holes in the bottom) this cup. The Styrofoam will act as an insulator and keep the roots warmer as the temperature near your window drops at night

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Amaryllis Seed Pods

In a previous entry about Amaryllis pollination I think I promised an update on what the seed pods would look like when the pollination was successful.

Notice how green and plump the seed pod on the right is compared to the one on the left. The one on the left didn't take even though it was self-pollinated just like the one on the right.

In both of them you can see how I've left the flower on to die off naturally instead of trimming it down. I didn't trim it down so you can see where the seed pods develop in relation to where the flower is.

Here's a video I made showing you how to pot an Amaryllis Bulb.

and one showing you how to pollinate an Amaryllis flower.

You can also visit my Amaryllis Bulbs blog where the content is exclusively about growing Amaryllis bulbs. 

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Etiolation-Glossary Hack

If you spend any time on gardening forums you may come across the word etiolation from time to time. You'll particularly encounter the word in Cacti and Succulents forums where it is often discussed or seen in pictures of people who are having trouble with their plants.

Basically etiolation occurs when a plant does not receive enough light and produce weak up-right growth. Plants that should be globular in growth start to stretch and grow upward like the cacti in the photo attached to this entry.

You can provide your plant with higher amounts of light by placing them in south facing windows or by building plant light shelves to supplement the low lights that you get indoors during the winter months. Once your plant has etiolated there isn't really a cure and it will look deformed forever.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Increasing Humidity Hack

During the winter months your houseplants will benefit from any attempts at increasing humidity in your home. We live in homes with heating that is designed to be comfortable for us but what is comfortable for us and be detrimental to our plants. You may even notice the effects of the dry air inside your home manifest themselves in the form of dry skin or dry nasal passages. If the dry air is affecting you it's also affecting your houseplants.

There are many expensive ways to increase humidity in your home. One of the most used methods is plugging in a humidifier but that can be costly because of the electricity used and replacement of filters. On top of the costs it's also not environmentally friendly to have a humdifier running twenty four hours a day.

Another method of increasing humidity in your home is installing a humidifier that is connected to your forced air unit. Again, cost, maintenance and environmental impact is an issue. So what can you do to help your plants make it through the dry winter months? Here are some easy and cheap solutions that are eco-friendly and cheap.

Instead of drying your sweaters, towels and jeans in a dryer hang them out to dry in your home and around your plants. You're already paying to heat your home so put that heat to use. If you wash and dry at a laundromat it will saves you money and time. If you dry your clothes at home this will save you money on your energy bill.

Do you have pots that are glazed and don't have drainage holes? Fill them with water and set them in warm areas around your home and near your plants.

Make a humidity tray of out plant saucers, take out containers and various things around your house and sit your plants on them.

These just some simple and frugal ways you can increase the humidity in your home during the winter months that will be a benefit to you and your houseplants.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Amaryllis Pollination Hack

Amaryllis Pollination And Propagation

If you have an Amaryllis you can easily hack it to produce seeds which you can then sow and produce even more plants that you can share with others, keep for yourself or sell.

Look at the image on the right. The stamen is the slender white stalk that's holding up the anther. The anther is the sack that holds the pollen. These are considered the male parts of a flower. This usually matures before the stigma.

The stigma is on the left and it is the tip of the female reproductive parts of the flower. Notice how the ends are curled back, this occurs a couple of days after the flower has opened and is ready to be pollinated.

If you want to propagate your Amaryllis it's really very easy. Cut the white slender stalk that's holding up the anther and tap it onto the stigma when it look similar to the stigma in the image above. If that seems too difficult then just take a small artist's paint brush and rub it up and down on the pollen. Now look at your paint brush and you should see there is a yellow dust like substance. Now take your paint brush and "paint" the tip of the stigma with the pollen you picked up on the brush.

Your flower soon will start to die because it has lived and completed it's purpose. Which was to attract a pollinator, which in this case was you. Leave the flower alone and let it die on it's own terms. If you were successful after a few days you should notice the swelling of the seed pod right behind the dying flower. Leave everything alone and about 5-6 weeks later your seeds should be ready. You'll notice the seed part start to split open and inside you'll find a lot of black paper thin seeds. Don't let them fool you those are the seeds and you want to sow those soon.

Do you have more than one Amaryllis? Are they blooming at the same time? Take the pollen from one plant and place it on the stigma of the other. It's a good way of making crosses of your Amaryllis bulbs. Your seedlings should be old enough to bloom by their third year.

If you start your seeds in soil using something like the Ghetto Greenhouse stand the seeds on their sides, or you can start them using the Baggie Method. I'll post photos soon of what my seedlings look like. When I do at the bottom of this post you should see "Links to this post" to help you keep track of them.

On Sunday March 25th my first seed pod opened. I'll post pictures soon.


I started a blog devoted to growing Amaryllis bulbs and various tips. If you want to know what to do after the seed pods form check it out.

Here's a video I made showing you how to pot an Amaryllis Bulb.

and one showing you how to pollinate an Amaryllis flower.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Seed Scarification Hack-Sandpaper

If you're starting from seed and need to scarify several seeds using sandpaper can save you some time and hassle. Sometimes the seeds are too small to hold each one while you nick the seed coat or sometimes you have a lot of seeds you need to get started for planting in your garden.

Aside from the seeds all you need is just need a really rough piece of sandpaper to do this. You simply place your seeds on your piece of sandpaper like in the image and then place a second piece on top to cover your seeds.

Place one or both of your hands flat on the top piece of sandpaper and move your hands in a circle going clockwise then do it counter clockwise while pressing down. Repeat the circular motion going in both direction until you notice that you've nicked the outer seed coat sufficiently.

This is a quick and easy way to get many seeds ready for soaking in warm water, if you're not inclined to do nick them all one at a time.

If you're thinking of starting from seed consider starting them in a Ghetto Greenhouse or using the Baggie Method if you don't have the space to create a greenhouses from soda bottles. They're both easy and inexpensive methods methods of starting your own plants from seeds.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Use For Pizza Table

In this previous blog entry I mentioned those plastic things that are put on top of pizzas to keep the box from touching the cheese.

I've found another use for them.

A lot of my plants are rather small and all are growing on a shelf near a window. Since so many of the plants are small and in small pots like the two in this photo I find it necessary to add something underneath the second row of plants so that the first row of plants doesn't block the available light. So I can use these plastic things to create "stadium seating" on my plant shelf and allow light to reach all of my plants. In the picture the plant below is a cutting of a cacti someone gave me that I'm trying to root. The plant sitting on the plastic table is actually two bulb offsets of Ledebouria socialis commonly called 'Silver Quills.' They're a good plant to grow in an indoor bulb garden.

If you're growing African Violets under lights these little pizza tables could help you raise some of the shorter plants up higher so that they're closer to the lights.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Humidity Trays-Hack

Many houseplants benefit from sitting in a humidity tray especially during the winter months when our homes are heated and the air can be quite dry. You can go out and spend some money of trays specifically designed for this purpose but if you're smart you can hack a humidity tray out of anything that will hold some water. For example a Tupperware container that is longer than it is deep, cutting out the bottom 2-3 inches of an empty milk jug, the tops of bottoms of take out containers or saucers that may have come with a pot. Just fill whatever container with enough pebbles so that it reaches the rim and then fill with water.

As the water evaporates it raises the ambient humidity around your plants-you may have to refill the water in the tray once a day if there is a lot of sun or it is particularly warm in your home. The one thing you want to look out for is that the bottom of your pot (and roots) are not sitting it water. This can be deadly as excess water contributes to root rot. Make sure your pebbles are high enough to make sure this doesn't happen.

Yesterday while eating a pizza I began to wonder about the person that invented those plastic mini tables that are placed on the center of a pizza to keep the box from coming in contact with the cheese and toppings. Eventually my mind wandered to the possible uses for this plastic thing and I realized it could be used in humidity trays to keep your pots up and off the water eliminating any chance that your plant roots will sit in water (see attached image) and rot.

I still don't know who invented this thing but I'm going to keep thinking of uses in the indoor/outdoor garden for this thing and will post about them as I come up with them. If you can think of any fee free to leave a comment.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Do-It-YourSelf-Hack A Garden Design

Ever wanted to someone to design your garden or to see what something you're imagining for your garden would look like but you can't draw a box to save your life? On my other blog I made an entry about Virtual Garden and how easy and kinda fun it was to work with. Even if you're not computer savvy I think you could use this tool to help you map out what your garden could look like without the expense of hiring a designer or landscape architect right away. The program comes with a tutorial to help you become familiar with the program.

It really couldn't be easier. Start a new garden and choose your measurements. Then with your mouse you plot out the shape of your garden by clicking and dragging your mouse. The little points on the screen are reminiscent of graphing paper. If you look at the screen capture above you can see I chose a simple shape just to show you how you I got started.

Once you choose the shape of your garden the default ground cover will be grass and your square will be green.From the right hand side you can choose to draw in dirt areas or paths or decking. I left most of it grass and only drew the brown "L" shape path you see and chose a cobble surface. The perimeter of your garden is automatically a fence but if you click on a line you can turn it into brick, stone or a hedge. I put in a pot in the lower right with a fountain. I added a table and chairs and a greenhouse in the upper left hand corner. A bench that faces the pot and a couple of trellises at one end of my path and an arch at the other.

Once I had that done I started placing plants around to give you an idea. You choose the plants from the button on the upper right hand corner. The plant selection isn't very extensive but you get a good amount of plants From Trees to annuals. You can always add or remove plants or objects you place by toggling back and forth between the buttons above. You can also switch to the 3D view and take a stroll through your garden. Below is a screen capture of this particular garden design.

For two of the four boundries of my garden I chose the brick wall to simulate a house. While you're working on your design you can switch from the overhead view to the 3D view to see how things look as you plant up your garden. When you're done or while your working you can take a stroll through your garden by toggling up, down, left and right. You can zoom all the way out or zoom in to see how something looks up close and see how your garden is going.

I'm sure there are powerful programs that do the same and an even better job than this but this one is free and pretty easy and it didn't strain the resources of my 4 year old computer. If you're looking for free garden design or would like to see how easy Do-It-Yourself garden design can be give this a try. You can use it on the BBC.CO.UK website or download it to your computer where you can save your designs.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Stratification And Scarification-GardeningTerms Hacked

Two terms that sometimes confuse people who are new to gardening and even some old timers are Seed Stratification and Seed Scarification. The words look similar and sometimes one word is used when you really intended to use the other.

Seed Stratification-simply put, is a cold moist period a seed needs in order to germinate. Some seeds cannot germinate immediately after being collected and need to go through a stratification period. You can stratify seeds in two ways; one is to build yourself a seed starter greenhouse using plastic soda bottles during the cold winter months and allow nature to do it's thing. You can place the seeds in moist peat or sand in the refrigerator using a (sandwich bag) for a period of about 3-6 weeks at about 42F and try to simulate nature this way if you can't do it outdoors. During this period make sure to keep the seeds moist because water an integral part to seed germination. Some seeds require a period of cold followed by a period of warmth then another period of cold before they will germinate. Either way is a good Do-It-Yourself method of seed starting when your seeds need a stratifying. This is a popular method people use to start apple seeds.

Seed Scarification- simply put, is the breaking or penetrating of the outer seed layer. Nature have developed many methods to accomplish this task. Sometimes seeds need to pass through the digestive track of an animal before they will break dormancy or be exposed to fluctuations in temperature or exposed to gases. Growers and some serious gardeners may use acids to get the seeds to germinate but that can be dangerous. You can accomplish the same thing by rubbing the hard seed coat with a file or sandpaper. I got past the hard seed coat of several Cannas last spring by boiling water and dropping the seeds in allowing them to soak until they absorbed water and swelled. Once you've scarified a seed it will need to be soaked in water from anywhere from a couple of hours to overnight before you sow them.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Photographing Seeds-Hack A Light Diffuser

This time of the year can be a little boring if you're strictly an outdoors gardener. If you don't have the benefit of having a houseplant collection to keep you occupied you're probably scrounging around looking for gardening related things to do. I found myself looking for a new project recently and decided that I wanted to take my seed cataloging to a new level. So I pulled out a couple of seeds and started snapping photos. I soon discovered that I wasn't happy with the deep shadows created by the sun and I don't have a home studio where I can manipulate things like a photography lighting set-up. But I do could something similar and pretty cheap.

So I found an opaque takeout container in the fridge, a sheet of white paper and some of my seeds. And of course a digital camera, I'm using a Sony Cybershot DSCW50 6MP Digital Camera with 3x Optical Zoom and created my own light diffuser.

I cut a crude opening on the bottom of the container where I could fit the camera lens through. I suppose you could remove the entire bottom if you wanted to but I just made an opening so the lens would fit through and I could rest the camera on it and use the timer to minimize camera shake.

The settings I used were:
ISO: 200
Metering mode: Spot
White Balance: Cloudy
Focus: Center AF
Those settings, a long with a little tweaking in Photoshop, created the pure white background that you see here and is common of catalog photography. Because the Macro mode on this camera is pretty good I had to go in and patch up the cracks and crevices in the seed coat in this Castor Bean seed that I couldn't see with the naked eye. Click the seed photo for a larger view.

I'm not sure what I'm going to be doing with all the photographs I'll be taking but perhaps I'll be using them to create a seed identification database or try to sell them as stock photos to companies that sell seeds. But you can do something similar to catalog all of your seeds, take photos of your plants, flowers or leaves. It doesn't have to be just gardening related you can use this technique to create professional looking photos of just about anything; maybe you sell jewelry or trinkets through your web site or blog or maybe you have an ebay store where you need to show photos of your merchandise.

If your looking for more tips for taking better photos of you garden read this blog entry.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

"I'm a Mac, I'm a PC, I'm a Terrarium!"

The Popularity of Apple's "I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC" ad campaign recently reminded me of a web page created by Ania Mitros that I came across when I was researching building a terrarium. I was pretty impressed with her creativity because I was planning on building one in an aquarium and hadn't considered housing one inside of something other than the traditional enclosures like a glass bottle or aquarium.

A few days ago I contacted her and asked if she wouldn't mind answering a couple of questions about her experience building this terrarium for carnivorous plants. She was gracious enough to find some time to respond and below I'll copy/paste our e-mail exchange.

Were you interested in gardening before you started the terrarium?

"Neither before nor after the Mac have I considered myself a gardener. I enjoy having plants around and in fact have a ponytail palm that's been with me since 6th grade, about 19 years. I started the terrarium on a whim, or more precisely, on two whims. I bought the Mac at a garage sale with thoughts of fish tanks. When I thought more deeply about the details of building one, I found myself concerned that if the tank leaked,I'd have myself a little flood. Near where I lived was a quirky little shop that specialized in carnivorous plants,succulents,and bright lamps to cheer up Seattlites during the long winters (although some of my friends commented on how well those lights would work for illicit marijuana plants). I put the two ideas together and built a terrarium. The owner of the Indoor Sun Shoppe sold me special soil and advised me to use distilled water or rain water,since the carnivorous plants prefer acidic soil."

Did any of your plants fail?

"Only now that you asked me did I realize that I did lose one plant! The Drosera capensis is nowhere to be seen! On the other hand, I also have some plants that I didn't when I started. There are a lot of little green grass-like plants and what I think is moss as ground cover. It all appeared on its own."

(MBT Note: It's not uncommon for "new plants" to appear in your terrariums. Sometimes spores or seeds will awaken that have been dormant in your substrate. I've read of mosses and ferns sprouting from the coconut sheets that some people use as backgrounds in aquariums.)

"I had one episode when I dried out the plants. I went away on a three week vacation and figured that if I put the terrarium in a larger tub of water and covered it, the humidity would be enough. It wasn't. The little circular sundew, Drosera spatulata, was particularly unhappy and shrunk a lot. After I returned from my trip and started keeping the terrarium properly moist, it grew back and multiplied. I now have several of those sundews, although none quite as big as the original plant. They grow slowly."

Did you see any one particular plant really thrive?

"I used to have only a single plant bulb (10W, I think). A few months ago, I added a second bulb and saw a big difference. The taller sundew Drosera dichotoma giant, isn't growing as tall anymore, as if it didn't have to try so hard to reach the light. The venus flytrap and pitcher plant have both turned a darker redder color. Usually the flowers grow up up up towards the light and eventually burn themselves to blackness on the bulb, unless I detour them to grow out of the front of the Mac through where the screen used to be."

What kind of reaction did you get from people who saw your terrarium?

"I keep the Mac in my cubicle at work. Most people comment on it when they first walk into my cube. Many ask what's in there. Some are very surprised when I tell them. Most ask how often I feed the plants (never, and they're lucky if they catch one or two flies per year). One man spent 5 minutes telling me about his plants and the local carniverous plant club and when they meet...he was very excited."


I'd like to thank Ania for taking a few moments out of her schedule to answer these questions about her carnivorous plant terrarium. If you're looking for a project to pass the cold winter days consider doing something like she did. Visit Ania's web page to see more info on the Mac she turned into a terrarium and see photos of the carnivorous plants she chose. If you don't have a lot of space but would like to garden something like this would be a great starter project.

If you're not familiar with the ad campaign from Apple that I mentioned above you can see one of the commercials on YouTube.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ceropegia Woodii-Air Layering Hack

I guess this method of propagating a Ceropegia Woodii can be described as air layering. Even though you aren't really wounding the plant by making an incision to make it produce roots in a certain spot. Here we're taking advantage of what this plant does naturally if you don't have a lot of confidence in your ability to grow from cuttings.

All I really do is set the tuber that this vine produces in a smaller pot that is filled with soil and I bury it in a little bit. It's important that the tuber you are trying to root isn't move or gets dislocated so anchor it in. Maybe with a piece of twine or a U shaped hook you make out of a paper clip or stakes made from toothpicks. Once I have the pots in a position where I know they won't be disturbed I just start watering the smaller pot as I would the larger plant until I figure that it has started to produce it's own roots in a few weeks or months. You can tug gently on the tuber and if you feel resistance then you know that it has started to produce roots. If it lifts up and you see no roots set it back in the soil and continue to wait a little longer.

Once you have observed the formation of roots in your Ceropegia Wodii you can then snip it off from the parent plant and continue to grow it as an independent plant and transplant to a pot that is one size larger. If you find that your plant looks straggly you can fill it out by wrapping the tendrils along the surface of the pot and allow it to form tubers and root itself. This has to be the easiest way to propagate Ceropegia Woodii because you don't really have to do much once you've gotten to this point other than wait.

If you'd like to read more about this plant based on my experience growing it see this link from my Rate And Review blog.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Citrus Hack: Free Plants From Your Grocer

Another seed starting method that can compliment or be used in place of the Ghetto Greenhouse is the "Baggie Method" if you don't have the space or desire to make seed starters out of plastic soda bottles. This method also saves you money because you don't need soil right away to start and when time comes to transplant your seedlings you can put them in an appropriate size pot. You only need a plastic sandwich bag, some seeds and a paper towel.

The kinds of seeds you can start with this method is really only limited by the variety in your collection or what you can find for sale. In this example I started citrus seeds from a citrus I got from the grocery store.

Once I was done eating this particular citrus I saved the seeds and soaked them for a day or so in a glass of water. When I was ready to sow them using the baggie method I laid them out on a napkin and moistened the napkin with a spray bottle. You want to moisten and not soak your paper napkin to avoid having your seeds get moldy. It's imperative if you're going to start citrus seeds that you sow them immediately because the longer you wait the less your germination ratio will be.

Once I had soaked my citrus seeds overnight and set them on the paper towel which I moistened I folded the napkin in half and set it inside the plastic sandwich bag which I sealed. Then I found a very warm spot for them in my bedroom. Since it's winter I take advantage of the heater we have running and place my seed baggies near a vent. The warmth from the heating vent helps with germination especially in the middle of winter when temps aren't really optimal for seed starting.

After a few days days I checked on my seeds and found that some had started to germinate. Once they get big enough I pot them up into little pots and let them continue to grow until they're big enough to re-pot again. Citrus like a lot of light if they're going to be grown indoors and whenever possible should be allowed to spend Spring and Summer outside.

At this point I should tell you that it will be a number of years before your citrus tree gets big enough for it to flower and fruit. But if you're a patient person or just growing for the fun of it that shouldn't be a problem for you. You can use this method to start a whole collection of citrus trees from seed to grow in your home or yard. Next time you're in the grocery store look for Key Limes, Calamondin Oranges, Kumquats, Mandarins and give them a try. If your store doesn't have a large variety of citrus available check out some of the ethnic grocery stores in your areas and discover a whole new world of fruits and veggies.

If you're not interested in growing citrus from seeds then you can use this method to start any kind of seeds that you are interested in. But I'd suggest sticking with larger seeds because they'll be easier to pick out and transplant into pots when they've sprouted. If you find that your bag retains a lot of moisture while you're waiting for your seeds to sprout open it for a few hours a day and let a little of the excess moisture evaporate.

Cati Collecting: Hack A Large Collection- Fast

If you find yourself bitten by the Cacti & Succulent collecting bug and want to start a collection there are many ways to acquire one in a relatively short amount of time. Here in Chicago I don't have many options and I can't walk into a great Cacti nursery and browse the plants. Here's how I started my collection and how it got to be too much.

I check all of the big box stores whether it's Home Depot or WalMart or Lowe's or Menards if the place sells plants I will go and take a look at what they're offering. You never know what you're going to find. Make sure to look over the dish gardens you find in such places, some times they have one or two nicer plants mixed in with the common one. I'll buy it for the one plant and give the others away if I already have enough of them. Right now I'm particularly fond of shopping at Home Depot because they're carrying plants from Altmans and as far as I've seen the selection is very good. If you're going to shop at big box stores try to make nice with the person who's in charge of the plants and ask them when the new shipments come in. The best plants are the first to go, so get there first. Think outside the box and look around in your area and pay attention to where you can find C&S plants. I picked up some last summer and this Christmas from Walgreens. In my area WM is the cheaper place as their C&S start at ninety-nine cents.

Another way to get a large collection fast is to propagate the plants you do buy. Take some leaf cuttings and make more of what you have. Take your extras and trade them with other plant hackers. Ask around and see who will give you cuttings of their plants so you can start your own Cacti & Succulent collection. Going a C&S forum and get to know people and do some trades. Join a C&S group near you and go to meeting ask if they have fund raisers and go shop at it. You'll probably find plants there that are very rare in retail.

Look at the seed racks of stores near you I found two stores carrying seeds last spring and start from seed. If you shop on-line check out places like Amazon and ebay or see if anyone is trading seeds on gardening forums like GardenWeb.

If you want a nice collection of plants you'll have to do some leg work and have various sources that you check up on often. But be responsible, many popular C&S are endangered so don't buy plant that are collected from the wild. Ask if you're not sure and ask again if you don't believe.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Friday, January 12, 2007


Echeverias are succulent plants in the Crassulacea family. These wonderful little plants are native from Mexico all the way down to northwestern South America.

The compact growth and lower water needs along with the interesting growth forms make Echeverias popular plants with gardeners in dry areas and with indoor gardeners.

Echeverias can be propagated from the offsets they produce but you can also hack and Echeveria so that it gives you plants from a single leaf. Hacking it this way will expand your succulent collection. You can use your extras to trade with other gardeners or to make a back up in the event something happens to your original plant. If you have a nicer variety you can do things like propagate these plants and sell on places like ebay or sell them as fund raisers for your favorite charity.

Since Echeverias often lose their lower leaves as they grow it's a good idea to remove these leaves when they're still healthy and propagate your succulent. Simply grab the leaf near the base where it is attached to the plant and twist and pull it off in one swift motion. Now set your leaf somewhere that's bright (no direct sun) and dry. Allow it to sit for a couple of days so that the cut callouses over-after a few days simply insert your leaf (like in the image above) at an angle and mist then with a water bottle.

Keep your newly potted up plants away from direct sun light so that they don't dry up. Mist regularly until you see the first signs of growth like in the image above. That's basically all there is to it. Some plants over time will lose the compact shape and growth that makes them so appealing so this a good way of reinvigorating your collection of succulents.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Adenium Obesum- Hack

Adenium Obesum is a genus of flowering in family of Apocynaceae. It's also commonly referred to as Desert Rose. It can reach 5 feet in height and some parts of the plant are toxic so care should be taken around children and pets and growing it.

You can hack (propagate) A. Obesum using two methods. You can stake cuttings and allow them to dry out for a couple of days and then plant or you can grow it from seeds. Growing A. Obesum from seed will give you the caudex (fat trunk) that makes these plants so popular. Growing it from a cuttings will give you a great plant but it won't produce the same caudex.

I accquired some Adenium Obesum seeds through a trade on Gardenweb from an experience Cacti & Succulent grower. He couldn't give me much info on them so I had to turn to Google.

When searching for info on germinating Adenium Obesum I was only able to find one website that dealt with them. The info there was sparse, but I was able to gather that the seeds should be soaked for a couple of hours in warm water and sown on the surface of the soil. The images on this site showed them just placing the seeds on the surface of the soil under a misting system.

I did basically just as I saw on the site. With the exception of using misting system, I don't own one so I just covered the pot with a plastic sandwich bag. Within a few days the seeds had germinated but I noticed that the seeds that had been partially covered in soil germinated before the seeds that were resting on the surface of the soil.

Because they were covered with a plastic bag and were sitting under a light a fungus or mold began to develop along the surface of the soil. I sprinkled cinnamon ontop of the fungus or mold that was developing and it was eradicated by the next day. In the photo attached to this entry the red stuff on the soil is the cinnamon I sprinkled.

My other blog.

Greenhouse Hack

Gardening can be an expensive hobby and if you look often times the gardens we admire the most are lush and full of plants that are maintained by people other than the actual owner. The average gardener may not have the time or resources to achieve the same look. And for the person wanting to start a garden a visit to costly garden centers can often be disappointing when the realization of how much money is involved in gardening. The alternative is to visit big box stores where prices are cheaper but selection and plant size that is driven by volume, again leaves the would-be gardener feeling uninspired.

So how do you achieve the same look without the bourgeois greenhouse or environmentally draining set-up of grow lights? You start your own plants from seeds using various things you may already have around your house. Here's what you need: an empty 2 liter plastic bottle, potting soil, a handful of seeds and a tool for making holes. I find that Miracle- Gro potting soil works fine for me, other people don't like it for starting seeds. Use your favorite brand but whatever you do don't skimp on the soil. If you use those 99 cent bags you find in Walmart, Walgreens or similar stores it may harden and you'll end up with a brick. That's fine if you want to build a patio or raised bed, but not so good for seed starting.

Take your 2 liter bottle that you've cut in half and make several drainage holes in the bottom of the bottle.

Fill the bottom with about 4-5 inches of soil. Read the seed preparation directions on your packet of seeds and sow them and water them in. You can water from the top or set the "pot" you just made in a saucer of water and allow it to absorb water. Take the top half of the bottle and replace it. What you have now is a seed starting greenhouse like the kind of available in stores. But it didn't cost you between 12-20 dollars. It should look something like this

I use this method to start seeds that require Stratification (cold treatment) I prepare all of my Ghetto Greenhouses and sow the seeds and set them outside for the winter and allow them to be exposed to the elements. When the weather starts to warm up and the snow melts I keep an eye on the containers and water when necessary. The clear bottles make this easy and when the seedlings emerge I just plant them out either into the ground or into pots. I can fit five of these into a plastic milk crate that I stack in a corner of my back yard. Here's what it looks like inside in the spring.

You can use this method to start all kinds of seeds. When the weather outside warms up you can start your tender plants, like annuals and tropicals. You can also adapt this method and make your Ghetto Greenhouse out of things you may have around your house. As a kid my grandfather used coffee cans, in school we used empty milk boxes and larger orange juice boxes. You can use take out containers, the salad containers you get nowadays in fast food restaurants. If you have empty pots you can cover them with plastic wrap or used sandwich bags. You can sow your seeds in Styrofoam/plastic cups and set them inside a plastic tote. Just make sure you have drainage holes and some opening(s) for ventilation, a few holes in the top of your container will still trap enough humidity. If you don't have a yard, try your deck or a bright windowsill.

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