Canna From Seed

Most seasoned gardeners know that generally, Cannas are grown from roots that are stored from one year to the next, much like potatoes.

Cannas can also be grown from seed, just like a Marigold or any other type of flower. We have grown Cannas from seed for the past four or five years, always sowing a couple dozen or so. This year I decided to do a large planting of these flowers. So I ordered several packets of the variety; ‘Indian Shot’, from Thompson & Morgan Seed Company. ‘Indian Shot’ has various colored blooms rangeing from yellow to red, set on green or bronze foliage.

We sowed the seeds back in late January into one of our greenhouse flats. They germinated in about 2-1/2 weeks with about a 60% gernination rate, which is typical for this species. The seedlings were moved into 1-1/2″ cells about a month later. In early March they were transplanted into 4″ round pots.

Here is the stage at which our Cannas are now:

Canna seedlings.

After Memorial Day, when then soil has warmed up, they will go into the long flower bed that is located next to a driveway. The same 90′ long bed that has crocus flowering in it right now.

Often, Cannas from seed will make a first flush of blossoms after reaching a height of about 3′. As the season progresses, they will continue to grow and bloom again at their final height of around 4 to 5 feet.

After the growing season has ended, these Cannas can be dug up and stored just like any other Canna and replanted next spring.

The seeds sure take up a lot less space than the roots!


What’s Up in the Garden

I thought you might be interested in seeing some photos I took a couple of days ago during that record breaking warm spell. Here are just a few of the things happening this week.

These are part of a 90 foot long crocus bed with some tulips mixed in:


Look here, some early daffodils already have their flower buds up and ready to go:


The ‘Black Watch’ Hollyhocks have been out of the ground for quite a while now:

Black Watch Hollyhocks.

What does this tulip think its doing? 2999 of its brothers and sisters in this bed are still waiting to bloom:

First tulip.

The rhubarb is awake now too:


That lettuce mix I planted back on March 13th is doing fine:

Lettuce mix seedlings

Have you had a chance to see what’s up in your garden?


A Touch of Spring

Every spring for a number of years now, I and my co-worker, Adrienne, have been putting together a Spring Display during March in the conservatory of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Adrienne grows the plants and bulbs in a back greenhouse, timing them so they bloom just when we want them to. Then I and my volunteers put the display together using the gorgeous plants and blooms.

Spring display pathway

This year’s theme has been “Heirloom Varieties”. We had a classic red tulip called ‘Coleur Cardinale’; an old time all yellow daffodil called ‘King Alfred’; a tiny species daffodil (which means its the same as what was found in the wild , in this case in the 1600’s) with a common name of Petticoat or Hoop Daffodil. It was only 6-8 inches tall with a little trumpet 1/2 -3/4 inches wide with a little frill around it. It was darling.

We also had a yellow tulip with red splotches called ‘Kaiserin Kroon’ and another yellow and red tulip called ‘Rembrandt’. Both of these were antique varieties.

Spring display Matthaei Botanical Gardens

The background greenery of the display was hostas, Japanese Ferns, Ostrich ferns and a perennial called Goatsbeard, that I would recommend for your perennial garden. It has a white fluffy flower, reminiscent of an Astilbe flower but looser and fluffier. It does like a moist spot so choose accordingly.

We had 4 varieties of hyacinth which scented up the conservatory. One variety was called ‘Macaroni” and another called ‘City of Harlem’. Tulips and hyacinths last only a week in the warmth of the conservatory, so we changed the dispaly every week and brought in fresh blooms. Designing with flower colors is one of my favorite things to do, so I enjoyed the whole process. Of course I have 3 to 4 volunteers one day a week that help with the redo. We all savored the first touch of spring.

If you are interested in antique varieties of bulbs, go to ‘Old House Gardens‘ from Ann Arbor for a wide variety. They have summer bulbs such as lilies that you can order now instead of having to wait till fall.

Happy Spring! Bye now, Judy

How We Sow All Those Seeds

Someone asked me a couple of days ago how do we manage to sow all those different seeds each spring. You see, we sow thousands of seeds, involving dozens of varieties. Each type of seed is a different size and shape.

Other than our fingers, we have some tools and devices that help the process along.
Here we see the five main tools we use in the greenhouse; tweezers, a suction-type seeder, a hypodermic-type seeder, a vibrating seeder, and a seed holder.

Seeding tools.

Tweezers are used quite a bit for medium sized seeds, we just place a small pile of seeds in the palm of our hand and pick them out one by one. It is a slow process but you can develope some speed with practice.

The suction-type seeder is used for the smallest of our seeds, begonia, petunia and the like. The device comes with three different size tips. You use the one closest to the size seed you are working with.

Suction-type seeder.

The suction seeder also picks up one seed at time. You just squeeze the bulb and release, it creates a vacuum that is used to pick up the seed. Many times the seed we sow with this tool is very small and hard to see. It helps to place the seed on a piece of white paper. This tool occasionally will get plugged up with debris. The manufacturer sends along three stiff pieces of wire that you use to unclog the tip. Don’t do what one of my helpers did and throw away that little 1″ piece of paper. That is how the cleaning wires are packaged!

The vibrating seeder is used for medium sized seed that are some-what heavy. The vibrating action of the tool can flip light weight seeds right off your table and on to the floor ! This device has a knurled wheel on the handle that you turn with your thumb. The wheel rubs on an internal part of the seeder causing it to vibrate thereby shaking off the seeds from the tip. A set of interchangeable baffels with different sized openings keeps too much seed from collecting at the tip.

Seedmaster vibration seeder.

The “hypodermic” style seeder has a plunger with a groove cut into it. As you press the plunger up and down it picks up a seed from inside the seeder and deposits it on the soil.

The tool we use the most is the seed holder. This simple tool has a round part to place your seeds into. A clear cover that has different sized holes cut into it, keeps too many seeds from moving into the spout. To use this tool you just tap the side with a pencil or rub the ridges molded into it. This causes a slight motion that moves the seed. If you have it slanted down at just the right angle, the seeds can be placed very accurately onto your potting mix.

We use a variety of containers for sowing seed into.

A six inch pot works great whenever we have just a few seeds to sow; anywhere from a half dozen to a maximum of about 60 or so.

6 inch plastic pots.

The divided-row flat is used for a greater quanity of seed, twenty five to fifty seeds fit in each row. It is also used to sow different varieties that you would like to keep apart but have the same germination requirements.

Divide row flat.

An undivided flat is used when we want to sow the seeds thickly as in the case of onions. Here we divided the flat in two using plastic pot tags.

Standard flat with two varieties sown into it.

On occasion we sow the seeds directly into “cells” that range from 48 to 128 cells per flat.

We also have sown into Jiffy pots and other containers. The old stand-by, a cut down milk carton works wonderfully as do yogurt containers with drainage holes cut into the bottom.

Next time we will discuss starting mix and seeds.


Checking the Garlic Beds

I had a chance to check the garlic beds yesterday.

If you remember my post a while back about growing garlic, I mentioned that the beds were mulched with straw. Spring is here so now’s the time to peak under their blankets of mulch:Garlic beds with straw mulch.

Can you see what I found? Wonderfully, healthy garlic bulbs poking up through completely frozen garden soil:

Garlic shoot growing in frozen soil.

Frozen soil is a good thing this time of year. Alternating freezing and thawing (which would happen if the beds were not mulched) will “heave” the plants out of the ground and damage their roots. This way, a nice slow thaw can happen without any damage to the garlic. We mulch strawberry plants in the fall for the same reason.

What we can’t see in the photos, are the roots that the garlic put down while under the straw. Encouraging root growth is one of the most important things to do if you want to harvest those nice big cloves we all love.

Happy first full day of Spring to you!!:D


Garden Log

Here’s a little bit of what’s happening in the garden:

Today we sowed four kinds of lettuce into flats, about 50-100 seeds of each. There were 2 kinds of “Buttercrunch”, a Romaine, and an Iceberg variety. As they germinate and grow, the seedlings will be transplanted into “cells” and later moved into the garden while it is still cool weather.

The leaf lettuce mix that was seeded outside under the garden bed cover on March 13th, has sprouted and is on its way to becoming a delicious salad mixture.

We seeded spinach today, directly into one of the covered beds. They love the cool weather too.

We worked on some flowers today as well: We removed the Cleome (Spider Flower) seeds from the refrigerator that had been cooling for 5 days and sowed them into flats. They needed a short cool period for best results.

The Thunbergia (Black Eyed Susan Vine) seedlings that we had been keeping in the semi-heated greenhouse (32-65 degrees) for a couple of weeks, were transplanted into cells (about 150 or so).

Our Pennisetum Rubrum (Dwarf Fountain Grass) was moved into 4″ round pots where they will probably stay until they are planted outdoors in May.

We moved our Verbena and Calabrachoa (Million Bells) from the warm greenhouse into the semi-heated greenhouse. I have had these easily survive mid-20 degree temperatures after being properly aclimated to the cold.

I also took some time to water spray the citrus trees, bananas, and the rest of the tropical plants. By directing a strong stream of water onto these plants, I was able to wash off many of the aphids, mealy bugs and other insects that have begun to multiply in the greenhouse.

We also have several varieties of flowers that have recently germinated and will have to be moved into other growing containers real soon.

There you have it, a brief summary of today’s projects.


Weather Outlook For Spring 2007

You know that old saying: ” Everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it!” 🙂 Not much can be done about controlling the weather quite yet, but there are a lot of people trying to predict it.

Climatologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have announced their 2007 Spring Outlook. This forecast is their best educated guess about the weather from April through June.

Taking a quick look at the maps, it seems that our part of the country will have a pretty average spring.

The NOAA website is the place I go every day to get my weather forecasts. There is a ton of information there. If you would like more detail than the simplified forecasts from The Weather Channel then by all means visit their site. After all, it is ours, we pay for it through our taxes. It is an agency of the Commerse Department of the United States.

NOAA is celebrating 200 years of service to our country this year. It traces its roots back to 1807 when Thomas Jefferson established the Survey of the Coast.

I remember several months ago, there was some talk about selling our weather service to a private company. 😕 I’m not so sure if that is a good idea. It sounds sort of like selling the Army or the Grand Canyon.

That’s enough for now… my bursitis tells me we are in for a change in the weather!


Saints Preserve Us!

After all the anticipation, after the long time between holidays, March 17th has finally arrived. This is the feast day of the Patron Saint of gardeners. We as gardeners love the color green, to me it represents abundant plant life and vitality.

The reason why this day has been made a Saint’s day for gardeners was lost centuries ago. The most common explanation is that in Europe, where this tradition began, March 17th historically has had good weather. So many people sowed the first seeds of the season into their gardens. Here in Southern Michigan mid-March is early even for cold tolerant crops. By the way, green beer is a modern invention and really has nothing to do with this Saint.

Born in 626 AD, in Belgium, Saint Gertrude of Nivelles was a devout Christian even at an early age. At ten years of age she refused to marry a nobleman and devoted her life to her religion. When she was only twenty years old she became Abbottess of her monastery in Nivellis. She lived to be only 33 years old, probably due to overwork exacerbated by her austere living conditions.

Saint Gertrude is also patroness of travelers, she was known all over the continent for her hospitality to travelers. She gave especially generous assistance to Irish missionaries who often traveled through the area. She was friends with Saints Follian and Ultran and helped them establish a monastery at Fosse. Curiously, Saint Gertrude’s sister, Begga, was also canonized a Saint, her feast day being December 17.

Saint Gertrude’s popularity grew during the middle ages and she was particularly beloved in Belgium, Germany and Poland. In addition to gardeners and travelers, she eventually became patroness to herbalists and people who love cats. Often her name was invoked against mice or other rodents whenever an infestation was discovered.

Many times, pictures of Saints have no identifing name on them because artists would use symbols to identify their subjects. If you see an old statue or painting of a woman, standing in a garden, carrying a staff with a mouse crawling up, that’s Saint Gertrude!

So… Happy Saint Gertrude’s Day!


Ye shall not possess any beast my dear sisters, save only a cat.

Saint Gertrude

70 degrees, Bees and Lettuce

Did you get a chance to go outside today?  I did. 


The snow was melting rapidly this morning as the temperature began to rise up to 70 degrees.  It was a great opportunity to check out how things fared over the winter.


My first stop was the bee hives.  All 8 hives had made it through the winter.  I always expect one or two of the colonies to not survive the winter, so this was a pleasant discovery.  The bees were joyfully taking their first spring flight in the 70 degree air and basking in the sun on the side of the hive boxes.


My next stop was the vegetable garden, as regular readers of this blog know, we have around 125 raised beds.  Most of the beds were still frozen, some had snow-melt water on the surface because the soil had not completely thawed.


One bed, much to my delight, still had growing spinach!  Every spinach plant in that bed was alive and making new growth.  What makes this all the more surprising is the fact that this bed was not mulched or covered in any way!  Of course I just had to taste some, so I picked a few leaves… they were delicious…and super-sweet.  I mean almost sugary!  Apparently, the spinach plants, as a winter survival tactic, had increased the amount of sugars and other nutrients in their leaves and crowns.  This kept the individual plant cells from forming ice crystals and bursting their cell walls.  These will make the most nutricious salad of the season.


Last fall we had covered 4 beds with home-made plastic “mini-greenhouses”.  These, of course, were the warmest of the garden beds.  I stuck my soil thermometer in several spots to depth of 5 or 6 inches and found that the soil temperatures ranged from a high of 44 degrees F near the center of the bed to a low of 32 degrees at the corners.  Actually, the corners were still frozen at a depth of 3 or 4 inches.


Hey, 44 degrees is good enough for me! 🙂  I cleared out a few frozen bib lettuce plants leftover from last fall, raked the surface level and sowed new lettuce seeds. Lettuce is a cool weather plant and is able to germinate fairly well when soil temperatures are in the 40’s.  Since this particular bed will be protected by the bed cover,  the planting will have a good chance of producing a successfull early lettuce crop.  If not, I’m only out the cost of a few seeds.


The seed I used was a mixture called “All Star Gourmet” from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  This mix contains 4 different green leaf lettuce varieties and 4 red leaf.


If all goes according to plan we will be harvesting our first outdoor lettuce in a few weeks. 


And so, another season begins…





Phyllis, Don’t Toss Out That Amaryllis !

We are well into the Amaryllis bloom season at this point in time. Some of our Amaryllis bulbs began blooming between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have had continuous blossoms since then and the last of our Amaryllis are beginning to bloom right now. It won’t be long until they are completely done.

So, now what? What do you do with an Amyrillis once it’s done blooming?

There is no state law requiring you to keep it. Many people simply toss them out once they’re finished. However, if you follow just a few simple steps, your Amaryllis can be coaxed into blooming again next year. A lot of the bulbs we gave away during the Christmas season are now being returned to us for re-blooming.

The first step is to cut off the flower stalk after the flowers have withered. Then just simpley treat the remaining plant just like a houseplant. Keep the soil somewhat moist and fertilize it once a month with soluble house plant fertilizer. The main idea is to keep it growing, the more vigorous the growth, the more spectacular the subsequent flowering.

Over Memorial Day weekend, (mark it on your calender) set the plant outside in a brightly lit spot. Dappled shade will do nicely. Don’t let it get sunburned 8). You can leave it right in its pot if you like and re-pot every three years or so. Or you can do as we do and plant the bulb into a garden bed. Keep up the fertilizing and watering regimen.

Some time around Labor Day, your Amaryllis will start to turn yellow. This is normal. The yellowing is an indication the the plant wants to rest and go into a dormant period. Stop watering it at that point and let the leaves die back. Cut the withered leaves to about an inch above the bulb in the neck region.

The dormant bulb needs to be placed in a dry area (no water at all) for about 8-10 weeks. Be sure they don’t freeze.

Sometime around Thanksgiving you can wake up your Amaryllis bulb by placing them into a bright spot and giving it some water. It will re-sprout its leaves and bloom again.

With all that being said, I have seen Amaryllis re-bloom again without all of these steps being adheared to exactly. I have found that as long as the bulb has made some growth (or at least has not lost size) it will more than likely blossom again.

So Phyllis, why not keep that Amaryllis? It really will make a nice houseplant.