Fun and interesting facts about holiday cactus (Schlumbergera spp.) and how to keep them alive.

Holiday cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cactus, Easter cactus, Zygocactus, Schlumbergera … whatever what the heck you call them, they’re all absolutely lovely and I’ve fielded quite a few questions about them this year. Maybe it’s time to chat about how to keep them thriving instead of subsisting, and, while we’re at it, get that whole naming problem out in the open.

S. truncata
  1. First, let’s clear up the name thing. Zygocactus is a former genus name of the so-called Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, so you won’t hear these plants called that much anymore – and if you do, it’s inaccurate. Schlumbergera is the current genus. It contains six to nine species, because taxonomists are still waffling a bit on whether or not the (former) Hatiora genus should be amalgamated into Schlumbergera. Collectively naming these plants “holiday” cactus reflects the times of the year they typically – but not always – bloom (and then we can quibble – as I’ve seen in some gardening groups on Facebook – about whether they burst forth in flower in time for the Canadian or American Thanksgiving and it all gets positively silly). What we call a Thanksgiving cactus is Schlumbergera truncata, and it features crab- or claw-like hooked appendages on its flat stems. The flowers also tend to be more erect than those of the so-called Christmas cactus. The Christmas cactus (S. x buckleyi), a hybrid of S. truncata and S. russelliana (which has super long segmented stems), has scalloped edges on the stems. And, finally, Easter cactus (S. gaertneri, formerly Hatiora gaertneri), which is somewhat impossible more challenging to acquire for purchase in this neck of the woods, has defined rounded edges on the flat stem segments. S. truncata (Thanksgiving) seem to be the most overwhelmingly available species for sale here, so if you have a friend who has a true Christmas or Easter cactus, see if they’ll give you a cutting for a box of chocolate truffles or something lovely like that.
  2. Another ID tip? Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata) has yellow pollen, while Christmas cactus (S. x buckleyi) has pink pollen.
  3. Curious about that defunct old genus name, Zygocactus? It refers to the fact that the flowers of Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti are zygomorphic – that is, bilaterally symmetrical (possessing two dissimilar halves). Another common plant with zygomorphic blooms is a viola.
  4. So … why do holiday cactus bloom when they do? It all has to do with photoperiod. The chillier temperatures and longer nights of autumn and winter trigger Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus to bloom. They need at least 6 weeks (give or take) of short days and uninterrupted 13 to 14 hour nights to make a colourful splash. Easter cactus take a bit longer – they need at least 8 to 12 weeks (give or take) of uninterrupted 13 to 14 hour nights to decide it’s time to bloom. (What do I mean by ”uninterrupted”? The plants must be in darkness for 13 to 14 hours per day for the prescribed time to bloom. Both artificial light and sunlight can disturb this period of darkness, and influence whether the plants bloom or not.) And … sometimes Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus will joyously offer up another kick at the can in late January or early February and rebloom. (This second flush of flowers isn’t usually as abundant as the earlier one, but it’s equally appreciated.)
  5. I’ve heard some stories about people stuffing their Schlumbergera spp. into a dark closet or a basement room to get them to bloom. If you want to control the timing of the bloom period, you can put the plants in darkness for 14 hours each day for several weeks to force them into bloom. But you still need to take them out so that they get some light and holiday cactus really don’t like being moved. So unless you have the equivalent of blackout curtains for your plants and can keep them in one place, I’d recommend letting things happen naturally. To that end, see #4 above, and leave your closets to house non-plant things.
  6. In Brazil and other parts of the southern hemisphere, most Schlumbergera spp. bloom in May or thereabouts. So there go the common names we northerners have attributed to the plants.
  7. Schlumbergera don’t have leaves. Those beautiful green stems perform all the photosynthesis the plant needs.
  8. Those little hooked appendages on the Thanksgiving cactus? They’re called cladophylls. Use that at your next trivia night!
  9. Three feet is the approximate maximum stem length of a Christmas cactus (S. x buckleyi). (But, again, give or take. It all depends on how delighted the plant is with its surroundings and how much love you lavish upon it.)
  10. There are apparently over 200 cultivars of S. x buckleyi (Christmas) cactus, which represents a staggering array of flower colours! It’s tempting to want to start a massive collection ….
  11. Schlumbergera spp. are native to the rainforests of Brazil, which means they aren’t like other cacti, which thrill to hot, dry climates. Like many tropical plants, they prefer dappled shade, and a temperature consistently hovering around 20°C (68°F).
  12. Many Schlumbergera spp. are epiphytic, which means in their native habitat, they like to hang out in trees. Like, literally. Some species are epilithic, and they grow on rocks.
  13. Holiday cactus don’t need a lot of water, as befitting a cactus, but they will suffer if they aren’t watered sufficiently. Don’t forget about them. Make sure you give them a glug of H20 about 3 times per month. Test the soil with your finger before watering – if the soil is damp, wait a little while. If it is bone dry, haul out the watering can. Don’t get the crown of the plant wet, as this may induce rotting. Don’t withhold water while the plants are blooming, but don’t overwater them, either.
  14. You don’t need to fertilize your holiday cactus year-round – stick to spring and summer feedings, when the plants are actively putting out green growth. Use a balanced liquid soluble fertilizer, or fish emulsion or liquid kelp once per month.
  15. Keep the plants out of direct, bright light in the summertime – remember that the native habitat for many of them is in the canopies of trees.
  16. Holiday cactus like being a little pot-bound. While the average lifespan of a holiday cactus is 20 to 30 years, you’ve undoubtedly seen the photos on the ‘net of the 50-year-old plants that seem to be busting out of their pots and blooming like they haven’t a care in the world. That’s because they are happy in cramped quarters. I’ve seen recommendations to repot them every three years or so but you can usually go quite a bit longer, unless the plants give you an indication that their abode is simply no longer suitable. (You’ll know it’s time when they call your realtor and request a little ”for sale” sign. Um, no. They’ll actually start acting up – watch for behaviours like wilting, suddenly needing more water than usual and more frequently, or perhaps the stems will begin to shrivel.)
  17. I usually just use a commercial potting mix for my holiday cactus, but a succulent or cacti mix is also suitable. Don’t forget to follow a yearly fertilizing schedule (see #14, above).
  18. Propagating Schlumbergera is easy and fun! If your cat hasn’t already knocked the plant over and dislodged a segment or six, just neatly cut off a length of 2 segments with a clean pair of scissors or a sharp knife and set the chunk out on a piece of towel for three days or so to callous over. Then put some damp potting soil in a small container and plop the cut piece an inch or so into the medium, newly-calloused side down. Keep the soil evenly and regularly moist, and after a few weeks, the little cutting should root nicely. Why not propagate some cuttings early in the year for holiday gifts for your friends and family come Thanksgiving or Christmas? Chocolate truffles of gratitude may be in your future! 😉
  19. Are the stems on your holiday cactus turning red? While this may look festive and pretty, it’s usually a sign that the plants are getting way too much direct light. Offer them a bit less for bliss.
  20. Wrinkled stems? You’re either overwatering or underwatering … this is evidence of either issue. Make some small adjustments to your offerings of irrigation until the situation improves.
  21. Bud blast is a huge problem for holiday cactus. Your plants may form flower buds on the tips of the stems, and you’ll get all happy and excited at the prospect of tons of blooms, then all of a sudden, you realize that stuff just ain’t happening. The plant has decided to sulk – maybe it just doesn’t want you to show it off on Instagram this year. There are a few reasons why bud blast occurs, but the big one is that you probably inadvertently moved the plant at some point over the past month or year or decade and it now hates your guts. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but do try not to move the plant (or even turn the pot) while it is forming buds, and you should be rewarded. Changes in temperature, moisture levels, or light can also trigger bud blast.
  22. What if your holiday cactus doesn’t bloom at all? If you’ve just propagated some cuttings, the new plants won’t usually bloom for a year or two – they’re simply too young. Very ancient plants sometimes don’t bloom as well. Plants that have not received enough nutrients throughout the year may fail to bloom. And finally, consider if you’ve changed the obvious things, like temperature, light, or how much water the plants have been given.

Do you grow Schlumbergera spp.? Feel free to post a link to photos of your plants, if you wish!

Canadian Online/Mail Order Seed Supplier List

I created this list for Alberta Gardening, the Facebook group I manage … and thought it might be super valuable here, as well! This list includes nursery stock, garlic, potatoes, and mushroom spawn suppliers.

ONLINE/MAIL ORDER SEED & PLANT SUPPLIERS – CANADA

2021

SEEDS – ALBERTA

A’BUNADH SEEDS – (Cherhill) – www.abunadhseeds.com

ALCLA NATIVE PLANTS – (Calgary ; seeds and plugs) – www.alclanativeplants.com

CASEY’S HEIRLOOM TOMATOES – (Airdrie) – www.caseysheirloomtomatoes.ca

DEB’S GREENHOUSE – (Morinville) – https://www.debsgreenhouse.com/

HANNA’S SEEDS – (Lacombe; specializes in grasses/lawn/forage seed) – www.hannasseeds.com

HARMONIC HERBS – (Barrhead) – www.harmonicherbs.com

HEIRLOOM SEED VAULT – (Southern Alberta) – www.heirloomseedvault.com

WILD ABOUT FLOWERS (Turner Valley; specializes in wildflower seeds and plugs) – www.wildaboutflowers.ca

WILDROSE HERITAGE SEED COMPANY (Lethbridge) – www.wildroseheritageseed.com

SEEDS – SASKATCHEWAN AND MANITOBA

BLAZING STAR WILDFLOWER SEED CO. (Saskatchewan) – www.Growwildflowers.ca

EARLY’S FARM & GARDEN – (Saskatchewan) – www.earlysgarden.com

HERITAGE HARVEST SEED – (Manitoba) – www.heritageharvestseed.com

LINDENBERG SEEDS – (Manitoba) – www.lindenbergseeds.ca

MANDY’S GREENHOUSE – (Manitoba) – www.mandysgreenhouse.com

MCKENZIE SEEDS – (Manitoba) – www.mckenzieseeds.com

MUMM’S SPROUTING SEEDS – (Saskatchewan) – www.sprouting.com

PRAIRIE GARDEN SEEDS – (Saskatchewan) – www.prseeds.ca

PRAIRIE ORIGINALS – (Manitoba) – www.prairieoriginals.com

SAGE GARDEN HERBS – (Manitoba) – www.herbs.mb.ca

T&T SEEDS – (Manitoba) – www.ttseeds.com

WINNIPEG SWEET POTATO – (Manitoba) – www.winnipegsweetpotato.com

SEEDS – REST OF CANADA

AGROHAITAI – (Ontario ; specialty: Asian vegetables) – www.agrohaitai.com

ANNAPOLIS SEEDS – (Nova Scotia) – www.annapolisseeds.com

ATLANTIC PEPPER SEEDS – (New Brunswick; specializes in chili peppers) – www.pepperseeds.ca

BERTON SEEDS – (Ontario) – www.bertonseeds.ca

B.C.’S WILD HERITAGE SEEDS – (British Columbia) – www.Bcwildheritage.com

B.C. ECO SEED COOP – (British Columbia) – www.bcecoseedcoop.com

BIRD AND BEE – (Ontario) – www.birdandbee.ca

BLUESTEM NURSERY – (British Columbia) – www.bluestem.ca

CHATHAM GARDEN SEEDS – (Ontario; specializes in seed kit for Canadian gardeners) – https://chathamgardensseeds.com/

CHOKED UP – (British Columbia; specializes in Jerusalem artichokes) – www.chokedup.ca

COCHRANE FAMILY FARM – (Nova Scotia) – www.cochranefamilyfarm.com

DE DELL SEEDS – (Ontario; specialty: corn) – www.dedellseeds.com

EAGLERIDGE SEEDS – (British Columbia) – www.eagleridgeseeds.com

ETERNAL SEED – (British Columbia) – www.eternalseed.ca

FLORABUNDA SEEDS – (Ontario) – www.florabundaseeds.com

FULL CIRCLE SEEDS – (British Columbia) – www.fullcircleseeds.com

GELERT GARDEN FARMS – (Ontario; specializes in sweet potato slips) – www.gelertgardenfarm.ca

GRETA’S ORGANIC GARDENS – (Ontario) – www.seeds-organic.com

HALIFAX SEEDS – (Nova Scotia) – www.halifaxseed.ca

HAWTHORN FARM ORGANIC SEEDS – (Ontario) – www.hawthornfarm.ca

HERITAGE SEED & PRODUCE – (Ontario) – www.heritageseedandproduce.com

HOMESTEAD ORGANICS – (Ontario) – www.homesteadorganics.ca

HOPE SEEDS AND PERENNIALS – (Nova Scotia) – www.hopeseed.com

HORIZON SEEDS – (Ontario; specialty: corn) – www.horizonseeds.ca

HOWARD DILL ENTERPRISES – (Nova Scotia; specialty: giant pumpkins and squash) www.howarddill.com

INCREDIBLE SEED COMPANY – (Nova Scotia) – www.incredibleseeds.ca

JARDIN DES VIE-LA-JOIE – (Quebec) – www.vielajoie.com

JARDINS DE LA GAILLARDE – (Quebec) – www.jardinsdelagaillarde.ca/fr/accueil

KITCHEN TABLE SEED HOUSE – (Ontario) – www.kitchentableseedhouse.ca

LA FINQUITA – (Nova Scotia) – www.lafinquita.ca

LA SOCIETE DES PLANTES – (Quebec) – www.lasocietedesplantes.com

LAUGHING SWAN FARM – (British Columbia) – www.laughingswanfarm.com

LE JARDIN DE JULIE – (Quebec) – www.jardindejulie.com

LE POTAGER ORNEMENTAL DE CATHERINE – (Quebec) – www.potagerornemental.com

LES JARDINS DE L’ÉCOUMÈNE – (Quebec) – www.ecoumene.com

LES SEMENCES DU BATTEUX – (Quebec) – www.lessemencesdubatteux.ca

MANHATTAN FARMS – (British Columbia) – www.manhattanfarms.ca

MAPPLE FARM – (New Brunswick) – www.mapplefarm.com

THE MARKET GARDEN – (Ontario) – www.themarketgarden.ca

MATCHBOX GARDEN & SEED CO. – (Ontario) – www.matchboxgarden.ca

METCHOSIN FARM – (British Columbia) – www.metchosinfarm.ca

MOUNTAIN GROVE SEED CO. – (Ontario) – www.mountaingroveseedcompany.com

MYCOFLOR – (Quebec) – www.mycoflor.ca

NARAMATA SEED COMPANY – (British Columbia) – www.naramataseedco.com

NORTON NATURALS – (Ontario) – www.nortonnaturals.com

OSC SEEDS – (Ontario) – www.oscseeds.com

PERFECTLY PERENNIAL HERBS AND SEEDS – (Newfoundland) – www.perfectlyperennial.ca

PIEBIRD SEEDS – (Ontario) – www.piebird.org

RAINBOW SEEDS – (New Brunswick) – www.rainbowseeds.ca

RAVENSONG SEEDS – (British Columbia) – www.ravensongseeds.com

RICHTER’S HERBS – (Ontario) – www.richters.com

SAANICH ORGANICS – (British Columbia) – www.saanichorganics.com/seeds

SAGE NORTH SEEDS – (Yukon) – www.yukonag.ca/listing/sage-north-seeds

SALT SPRING SEEDS – (British Columbia) – www.saltspringseeds.com

SEEDS FOR FOOD – (Quebec) – www.seedsforfood.net

SEEDS OF CREATION – (Ontario) – www.seedsofcreation.ca

THE SEED COMPANY (BY E.W. GAZE) – (Newfoundland) – www.theseedcompany.ca

SOGGY CREEK SEED COMPANY – (Ontario) – www.seeds.soggycreek.com

SOLANA SEEDS – (Quebec) – www.solanaseeds.netfirms.com/welcome.html

STOKES SEEDS– (Ontario) – www.stokeseeds.com

SUNSHINE FARM – (British Columbia) – www.sunshinefarm.net

TERRA EDIBLES – (Ontario) – www.terraedibles.ca

TERRE PROMISE – (Quebec) – www.terrepromise.ca

TOURNE-SOL COOPERATIVE FARM aka LA FERME COOPÉRATIVE TOURNE-SOL – (Quebec) – www.en.boutique.fermetournesol.qc.ca

URBAN HARVEST ORGANIC SEEDS – (Ontario) – www.Uharvest.ca

URBAN TOMATO – (Ontario) – www.urbantomato.ca

VESEYS – (Prince Edward Island) – www.veseys.com

WEST COAST SEEDS – (British Columbia) – www.westcoastseeds.com

W.H. PERRON (DOMINION) – (Quebec) – www.dominion-seed-house.com/en

WILLIAM DAM SEEDS – (Ontario) – www.damseeds.com

YONDER HILL FARM – (Nova Scotia) – www.yonderhillfarm.ca

SEED EXCHANGES

SEEDS OF DIVERSITY CANADA – (Ontario) – www.seeds.ca

GARLIC & POTATOES (ALBERTA & PRAIRIES)

DEEP ROOTS FARM (Lacombe) – www.facebook.com/visscherfarm/(Facebook)

EAGLE CREEK SEED POTATOES (Bowden) – www.seedpotatoes.ca

EARTH APPLES SEED POTATOES (Stony Plain) – www.earthapples.com

THE GARLIC RANCH (Sundre) – www.thegarlicranch.com

SASK GARLIC FARM – (Saskatchewan) – www.saskgarlic.ca

GARLIC AND POTATOES (REST OF CANADA)

ACROSS THE CREEK ORGANICS – (British Columbia; specializes in potatoes) – www.facebook.com/Across-the-Creek-Organics-108619199237183/(Facebook)

AUGUST’S HARVEST – (Ontario; specializes in garlic and onions) – www.augustsharvest.com

BOUNDARY GARLIC – (British Columbia) – www.garlicfarm.ca

THE CUTTING VEG – (Ontario; specializes in garlic) – www.thecuttingveg.com

D & H NEWMAN – (Ontario; specializes in garlic) – www.dandhnewman.ca

ELLENBERGER ORGANIC FARM – (Ontario; specializes in potatoes) – www.ellenbergerorganicfarm.com

EUREKA GARLIC – (Prince Edward Island) – www.facebook.com/Eureka-Garlic-121648878449492/(Facebook)

HELMER’S ORGANIC FARM (British Columbia; specializes in potatoes) – www.helmersorganic.com

NORWEGIAN CREEK FARM – (British Columbia; specializes in garlic) – www.norwegiancreekfarm.ca

RASA CREEK FARM – (British Columbia; specializes in garlic) – www.rasacreekfarm.com

RED LION ORGANIC FARMS – (British Columbia; specializes in garlic) – www.redlionorganic.com

TREES & SHRUBS/PERENNIALS (ALBERTA & PRAIRIES) – ONLINE ORDERING

DNA GARDENS – (Elnora, Alberta) – www.dnagardens.com

SHERWOOD’S FORESTS – (Warburg, Alberta; does not ship, pick-up only) – www.sherwoods-forests.com

TREE TIME – (Edmonton, Alberta) – http://treetime.ca

TREES & SHRUBS/PERENNIALS (REST OF CANADA) – ONLINE ORDERING

ARBORNAUT NURSERY – (British Columbia) – www.arbornautnursery.com

APPLE LUSCIOUS ORGANIC ORCHARD – (British Columbia) – www.appleluscious.com

CORN HILL NURSERY – (New Brunswick) – www.cornhillnursery.com

DENMAN ISLAND HERITAGE APPLE TREES – (British Columbia) – http://denmanapple.ca

FIGS FOR LIFE- (British Columbia) – www.figsforlife.ca

FRASER’S THIMBLE FARMS – (British Columbia) – www.thimblefarms.com

GOLDEN BOUGH TREE FARM – (Ontario) – www.goldenboughtrees.ca

GREEN BARN FARM – (Quebec) – www.greenbarnnursery.ca

GRIMO NUT NURSERY – (Ontario) – www.grimonut.com

HARDY FRUIT TREES NURSERY – (Quebec) – www.hardyfruittrees.ca

MOUNT ROYAL SEEDS – (Quebec; specializes in tree and shrub seeds) – www.mountroyalseeds.com

NUTCRACKER NURSERY & TREE FARM – (Quebec) – www.nutcrackernursery.com

PÉPINIÈRE ANCESTRALE – (Quebec) – www.pepiniereancestrale.com

RHORA’S NUT FARM & NURSERY – (Ontario) – www.nuttrees.com

SALT SPRING APPLE CO. – (British Columbia) – www.saltspringapplecompany.com

SILVER CREEK NURSERY – (Ontario) – www.silvercreeknursery.ca

TROPIC TO TROPIC PLANTS (British Columbia; specializes in tropical plants such as bananas, citrus) – www.tropic.ca

WHIFFLETREE FARM & NURSERY – (Ontario) – www.whiffletreefarmandnursery.ca

MUSHROOM SPAWN

ALL THE MUSHROOMS – (British Columbia) – www.facebook.com/allthemushrooms/ (Facebook)

FUNGI AKUAFO – (Calgary) – www.fungiakuafo.com/

FUNGI SUPPLY – www.fungisupply.ca/home

GROW MUSHROOMS CANADA – www.growmushroomscanada.ca

Please note: While I do use some of these seed suppliers, their presence on the list doesn’t imply or express any endorsement on my part.

And – if you have anything to add to the list, please drop me a line in the comments and I’ll make an update!

Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

Flowery Friday: Amaryllis.

My amaryllis started blooming this week … this is Hippeastrum cybister ‘Chico’. Such a wonderful treat! It is grey and gloomy here today and I can’t stop staring at these brilliant flowers.

Do you grow amaryllis? If so, which are your favourite cultivars? Show me photos, if you can – I’d love a bit more colour in my world today!

Gift ideas for gardeners (the dare to dream version).

Yesterday, I reblogged a post of practical and useful gifts for gardeners – a “serious” list, if you will. Today’s list is slightly different.

Gifts for Gardeners (The Dare to Dream Version)

  1. Secateurs of Perpetual Sharpness.
  2. Deer that favour dining on the Weed du Jour instead of precious cultivated plants.
  3. Banana plants hardy to Canadian hardiness zone 2.
  4. 100 percent germination of (desirable) seeds.
  5. An “undo” button for early autumn or late spring frosts.
  6. An instant pumpkin ripener. (Bonus points if it works on tomatoes, as well.)
  7. A dimension to banish red lily beetles/slugs/aphids into.
  8. A trowel finder. (Seriously, can someone please invent this? GPS tracking technology or something?)
  9. An always-accurate plant ID app.
  10. One-size-fits-all-gardens instant pop-up hail protection devices.

Join in on the fun! What “dare to dream” gardening gifts would you love to give or receive?

(Banana plant photo courtesy Pexels Free Images)

Book News: The Guides for the Prairie Gardener

Book News and Events – November 2020

Exciting news! The next two books in The Guides for the Prairie Gardener series were sent off to the printers last week! A couple of weekends ago, Janet Melrose and I reviewed the final proofs and had our first looks at the full jackets for The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Seeds and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Small Spaces. Our designer, Tree Abraham, has once again done an incredible job of the cover illustrations and exterior/interior design! We will be revealing the covers very soon – stay tuned!

And … we have some more thrilling news! We will be spending the winter working on books #5 and #6 in the series! They will be published in spring 2022. We will reveal more details over the next few months. In the meantime, we’re over here doing a happy dance!

Request for reviews!

Do you have a copy of either of (or both of!) our books, The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases? If you do, can you please help us out and take a couple of minutes to give us a rating and review on Amazon.ca/Amazon.com?  Don’t worry about leaving a lengthy review…two or three words is honestly all Amazon requires.  If you’re on GoodReads, leaving a rating over there would be wonderful, as well!  Thank you so much! We are so grateful for your support and encouragement and we hope you are finding the books informative, useful, and fun!

And the Winner Is …

In conjunction with our publisher TouchWood Editions, Janet and I recently held a contest in the Alberta Gardening Group on Facebook, with a set of The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases as a prize.  Congratulations to Kendra Victoria, who was the lucky winner of the books!  Thank you to TouchWood Editions for supplying the prize!  

Get Social with Us! 

Sheryl: 

Facebook: @FloweryProse

Twitter: @Flowery_Prose

Instagram: @flowery_prose

Janet:

Facebook: calgaryscottagegardener

Twitter: @calcottagegdnr

Instagram: calgaryscottagegardener

(Image of fountain pen courtesy Pexels Free Photos)

October snow.

Gardening so isn’t happening right now.

Gotta love October in Calgary! It’s been snowing on and off all week and we’re currently under a snowfall warning (to see what Environment Canada defines as a “snowfall warning,” click here)…and this morning around six, we hit a low temperature of minus 15.5 degrees Celsius (that’s 4.1 degrees Fahrenheit). To put that in perspective, our average daytime high temperature for October hovers around plus 13 degrees Celsius (55.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Oh well. It’s still rather pretty. (I’m just saying that because I went out and planted and mulched my garlic five minutes before the snow started late last week. Totally squeaked it in on my lunch break from work. While wearing my dress clothes and shoes.) 😉

The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – September 2020.

The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter

September 2020

Welcome to the fifth issue of The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter! Janet Melrose and I are keeping you up-to-date on everything related to our book series Guides for the Prairie Gardener, letting you know about what other Prairie gardening-related projects we’re working on, and throwing in some gardening trivia and newsy tidbits, just for fun!  If you like what you see, please follow us on our social media and hit the subscribe button on Flowery Prose.

Book News and Events

Janet’s chat on CBC Radio’s Daybreak

On August 15, Janet did an amazing interview with Russell Bowers on CBC Radio’s Daybreak programme, talking about our books in the Guides for the Prairie Gardener series and what to watch out for in the garden in late summer! Take a listen to the interview here! 

Request for reviews!

Do you have a copy of either of (or both of!) our books, The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases? If you do, can you please help us out and take a couple of minutes to give us a rating and review on Amazon.ca/Amazon.com?  Don’t worry about leaving a lengthy review…two or three words is honestly all Amazon requires.  If you’re on GoodReads, leaving a rating over there would be wonderful, as well!  Thank you so much! We are so grateful for your support and encouragement and we hope you are finding the books informative, useful, and fun!

In Our Gardens

Sheryl:

Well, the first frost has already happened here in Calgary and so I’ve been watching the forecast like a hawk and covering the tomatoes as required. I swear, my tomatoes have been covered nearly the whole growing season – first, to protect them against the threat of multiple hailstorms, and now this!  I have already harvested a pleasantly sizeable yield of ripe and ready currant tomatoes and my husband and I have been enjoying them in salads and I’ve been taking them to work just to snack on.  I’m still waiting on my precious ‘Black Krim’ tomatoes, though…they are still green and I’m waiting on a bit of a blush to happen.  If you pick them when they are TOO green, they won’t ripen indoors…you have to reach that special threshold.

‘Candyland Red’ currant tomatoes (photo by Sheryl)

I have picked quite a few lovely zucchinis over the past several weeks and they’ve been cooked up in various ways in my kitchen.  Did you know that you can shred zucchini, drain the excess water from it, then pack it into bags and freeze it for later use?  It’s a good solution if you’re swimming in summer squash! I saw a great tip in the Alberta Gardening group on Facebook last week from a gardener who goes one step further and freezes the shredded zucchini after packing it into the cups of a muffin tin. When it’s ready, she just snaps out the iced zuke pops, bags them individually, and puts them back in the freezer. Nice and tidy and ready for that chocolate zucchini cake at a moment’s notice!

And I’ve been saving seeds…calendula, dill, nasturtiums, beans, and sweet peas so far.  I can’t stress enough the importance of labelling the plants that you want to save seed from so that you can easily locate them later on when they’ve stopped blooming. This year, I just tucked in some old wooden skewers I had kicking around and fashioned a tag with a piece of coloured tape.  I wrote the colour of the flowers on the tape – for example: a calendula with DBL (double flowers) with BRN CENT (brown centres).  I planted several types of calendula this year and wanted to differentiate the doubles from the singles, and identify the colours.  I also had several colours of nasturtiums, so I tagged them to remind myself where the red ones were in the sea of cream-coloured ones.  You’ll be sure to come up with a labelling system of your own – just remember to do it in advance, as it makes seed saving much easier.  I always think I am going to remember the exact location of everything but I never do….

One of the double-flowered calendula plants I am keen to save seed from … (photo by Sheryl)

If you’re planning to save seed from your sweet peas, I’ve done up a little video with some tips – check it out: 

And I’m talking about saving dill seed here:

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl:

Did you know…that hawthorn berries are not really berries at all? They are pomes. (Apples and pears are pomes, too).  Hawthorn berries are commonly called “haws”; rather reminiscent of the ‘’hips” from roses. (And, in fact, hawthorns are related to both apples and roses – they’re in the same family). Right now, you’ll be seeing the bright red fruit on hawthorn trees growing on the prairies – they look a bit like tiny ornamental crabapples or indeed, like oversized rose hips.  I’ve been experimenting with making jelly from hawthorn berries…stay tuned for a blog post containing the recipe! 

Hawthorn “haws” (photo by Sheryl)

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Sheryl: 

Facebook: @FloweryProse

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Janet:

Facebook: calgaryscottagegardener

Twitter: @calcottagegdnr

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‘Til later!  ♥Sheryl and Janet

Nasturtium flower infused vinegar.

Nasturtiums are always tucked into my vegetable garden. They are bountiful seed producers, and although I give away plenty, I still always have huge envelopes stuffed with seeds…so I’m a bit free with the sowing. I love how they bloom abundantly and beautifully right up until frost takes them.

You can eat the green seeds, if you’re so inclined – they are fabulous pickled if you’re into their unique peppery taste. The flowers have the same flavour, albeit milder, and are often used in green salads. This year, I was keen on making an infused vinegar with them, along the lines of the one I make from chive flowers.

All you need are two ingredients and a clean, sterilized jar with a tightly fitting lid and you’re good to go. Wash the nasturtium blossoms to get rid of all the insects and soil and other assorted things we don’t want to eat, then pack them tightly into a mason jar. Add white wine vinegar (my recommendation) or plain white vinegar and seal the jar. Place it in a cool, dark cupboard for about two weeks, then strain the flowers from the vinegar and discard them. Label the vinegar and keep it in the fridge. Aim to use it up within two to three months.

Do you grow nasturtiums in your garden? Do you eat them?

Prairie gardening viewpoints: guest post.

I am delighted to announce that I have another guest on the blog!  If you’ve been following this series on Flowery Prose, you’ll know that I’ve been posing a few questions to Prairie gardeners, inquiring about their experiences gardening in such a unique, challenging climate.  I want to find out what they love about gardening in Alberta, what they find difficult, and what inspires them about growing.  Whether you live on the Canadian Prairies or you’re much further afield, I’m sure you’ll find ideas and solutions to consider for your own gardening endeavours.

Please allow me to introduce Krista Green!

Where do you garden in Alberta?

My husband, our 3 children and I live on 4 acres south of Calgary near Black Diamond. We were able to move out of town to this small piece of land 4 years ago.  Having a big backyard with lots of space to garden has been so amazing!  I am loving it so much!

As a child I grew up in the country where we always had large vegetable gardens.  Helping out in the garden and learning to weed was a part of my childhood.  I lived in Vernon, B.C. until I was 14 (such an easier growing climate!) and really fell in love with gardening when I was around 10.  That year I planted some pumpkin seeds, starting them indoors.  I remember transplanting them into our garden there.  They ended up a huge pumpkin patch growing so many pumpkins!  I was hooked.  I want our children to have this same opportunity to experience gardening, growing from seed and its reward. 

What challenges do you think we face as gardeners in this province?

As Albertan gardeners we face so many challenges!  Working within a very short growing season, cool weather, chinooks that can be so hard on perennial plants, deer and rabbits eating our plants, along with alkaline soil and water in much of the province to name a few. 

I am always so encouraged when I am able to talk with other Albertan gardeners who grow successful vegetables, herbs and fruit and who understand these challenges. 

It was for this reason I decided to start my blog with gardening tips specifically for our climate.  This May I began my blog Zone 3 Vegetable Gardening with the goal of encouraging and helping other gardeners who desire to grow their own food in the cooler gardening zones.  When looking for gardening tips and help, almost all of it seemed to come out of the warmer zones and it was difficult to know how to adapt for our Alberta climate.  I have so many ideas and plans that I want to share with you to make your gardening more fun, successful and organized!  Subcribe to my blog and be the first to find out what these are!

How can we overcome those challenges?

As an Albertan gardener I find it necessary to start things like flowers, tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers indoors early in the spring to offset our short growing season.  I direct seed many vegetables such as carrots, peas, green onions, spinach, potatoes, beets and radishes at the end of April or beginning of May.  This means these will be covered in snow a few times but I have found I have stronger plants that mature earlier by doing this.  If I do lose some of the plants to the cold I just re-plant, but most years everything pulls through.  I wait until after the May long weekend to plant the remainder of my vegetables such as beans and even into June to transplant my sensitive plants like my cucumber and squash.  Some years my last frost is around mid June so I need to keep an eye out.  I often end up covering parts of my garden during frost warnings in late May and early June.  To read more about how I protect my plants from frost you can read my article Protecting Your Plants During Frost.

What inspires you about gardening?

Gardening feeds my soul.  In the garden I feel at peace, I pray, I hear the joyful songs of the birds, I notice and am thankful for the buzzing of the bee.  The breeze feels as though it blows life’s worries away.  In the garden life is simple.  Seeing the miracle of the growth of those tiny seeds I planted never ceases to amaze me.  Feeding my family healthy and organic produce from my efforts is so satisfying!  The smells, the sounds, the feels, the sights of gardening, they all inspire me!  It is difficult to put into words how it fills me up and grounds me.

What types of plants are you most passionate about growing?

Definitely vegetables!  And herbs.  And fruit.  Well I guess you could say anything you can eat.  I enjoy growing flowers as well but personally don’t find them nearly as satisfying to grow.  I am passionate about creating a lifestyle less dependent on others.  I love growing our own food and learning all about sustainabillity!  We have twenty-two chickens and plans to do fencing for sheep and possibly goats one day soon.

What gardening (or gardening-related) projects do you have on the go this year?

My biggest gardening related project this year has been my blog and my Instagram account.  Computers are not my thing at all so there is a huge learning curve there!  We also redid our deer fence this spring (I say we but that was really all my husband who did that).  We switched from mesh netting to wire as the netting was torn.  My husband built me a raspberry bed as well this spring.  I hope to add another each year until I have a large raspberry patch.  I would like to lay down cardboard this fall and top with a thick layer of compost to create a new perennial flower bed for next year as well as a large in ground potato garden.  I am also hoping to experiment with growing herbs and veggies indoors under grow lights through the winter.  We will see how that goes!

Did you set out with any gardening goals in mind for the growing season?

Some of my goals this season were to help my children plant and maintain their own little vegetable gardens.  Having them home more due to COVID has allowed them more time to work alongside me in the garden, which I love!  Another goal was growing brassicas.  Something fairly new to me.  I harvested some small broccoli and my first small cauliflower and am still waiting on the cabbage.  Trying a few new things, experimenting and learning are always goals for every growing season.

If so, have you been able to accomplish them?

I would say yes.  My children each have a beautiful veggie patch and are enjoying eating carrots, lettuce and peas from them daily.  My eldest is getting better at recognizing weeds.  (I’m thinking she doesn’t realize the weeding chores that will likely go along with this skill!)  I tried growing okra for the first time.  That was a big fail.  I’m going to try again next year but in the greenhouse. 

What are your plans for your garden for the future?

I hope to continue to improve my soil each year.  I have very alkaline soil and that is always a battle for me.  I want to build a cover for at least one of my raised garden beds to grow my brassicas under.  To expand my garden!  Can you ever have enough gardening space? 

Thank you so much for this opportunity to do an interview with you Sheryl!  You inspire and encourage me in my own gardening experience.  I hope I will do the same for others.

Krista, it’s been a huge pleasure to interview you for Flowery Prose! Thank you so much for your insight and ideas – I know you’ve offered a ton of wisdom and support to many gardeners through your blog (Zone 3 Vegetable Gardening) and social media and I wish you continued success!