Book review: House Plants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf.

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House Plants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring for Indoor Plants

By Lisa Eldred Steinkopf (Cool Springs Press, 2017)

Throwing millennials and houseplants together seems to be a thing in the media these days; this (slightly tongue-in-cheek) article from The Washington Post is only one example of many that I’ve come across lately.  One glance at the racks in your local garden centre will tell you that indoor gardening is indeed experiencing a resurgence – for everyone’s benefit!  There are so many more plant selections available, and not just the succulents and air plants that have been trendy for the past few years.  Looking after houseplants is meditative, nourishing, and just plain enjoyable, but only if you know what you’re doing.

That’s what Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book is for: to help you succeed with your growing endeavours.  In House Plants, Steinkopf (thehouseplantguru.com) thoroughly and precisely covers every detail: soil, water, light, containers, siting, propagation, and troubleshooting pests and diseases.  Her advice is practical and easy to understand, even for those just getting into the hobby – this is a book that will definitely inspire confidence when it comes to keeping houseplants.  (The chapter on propagation particularly impressed me, with its clear directions and accompanying photography).  Indoor gardeners will appreciate that she even touches briefly on bonsai, topiary, living walls, water plants, and holiday plants, as these somewhat specialty niches become more mainstream.

Of course, it’s truly the more than 125 profiles of houseplants that attracted me most to the book…I feel like I now have a goal to try them all at some point (don’t tell my hubby!).  I love the fact that individual plants are categorized according to their difficulty of cultivation and maintenance (again, this gives me something to work towards!).  From ferns to figs to palms, orchids, and dracaena – it’s all here and each one is beautifully photographed to aid in identification.  Comprehensive, useful, and a delight to pore through, this really is the “complete guide” to houseplants!

 

(Full disclosure: I was given a review copy of Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book House Plants by Cool Springs Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group. All opinions are 100 percent my own.  Heck, 300 percent my own).

National Poinsettia Day.

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Apparently, it is National Poinsettia Day in the United States. I don’t have a poinsettia this year, although I love them. It’s been so cold here that transporting one from the garden centre to home might completely do it in before I even had a chance to enjoy it. Arctic air masses that lounge around for days and days on end are not fun for anyone, and especially not if you’re from the tropics, as this plant is. Which is also perhaps why it is not National Poinsettia Day here in Canada – we’ve established that temperatures in the minus mid-to-high twenties (that’s Celsius!) are not ideal for such a celebration. Really, for any celebration. Except one involving hot chocolate and Irish cream and a warm fireplace.

Even if we don’t have a special day to honour poinsettias here in the frozen north, I can still share a fascinating bit of information: did you know that the dense, multi-branching habit and stunted growth of our holiday poinsettias results from infection by a type of pathogen?  This article has more information about how it works.*  And here is another for further perusal.  Enjoy the reads – I’m off to petition the government to make National Hot Chocolate and Irish Cream and Warm Fireplace Day a reality.

Are poinsettias part of your holiday celebrations?  What colour is your favourite?  And have you ever seen a poinsettia in tree form?  (I haven’t).  

*UPDATED: I managed to track down a photo of a “wild” poinsettia, as the photo in the link isn’t accurate – take a look here.

Planting Garlic: Pre-treatments and crop rotation.

Garlic B&W

Do you grow garlic?  A co-worker and I were discussing our plans to plant it this year and we got on the subject of soaking the cloves before putting them in the ground:  yay or nay, and in what media?  Soaking garlic is supposed to deter fungal infections and insect infestations, and presumably because the cloves are healthier, the subsequent plants will be as well (which translates as better yield and quality).  Soaking garlic is standard procedure for many growers – is it something you do?

It seems there isn’t a consensus about what to soak it in, however – or even how many steps you should take to accomplish the task.  My co-worker just puts the cloves in rubbing alcohol for three or four minutes and then sows as usual, but I’ve read that some gardeners use a pre-treatment of either an overnight soak in plain H²O or a combination of liquid seaweed, baking soda and water, followed by the alcohol rinse.   Alternatively, you can leave out the rubbing alcohol (or vodka or hydrogen peroxide or ?) and just go with the seaweed mix.  Commercial growers appear to have their own brews, including guidelines for the optimum temperature of the soaking media.  What is your go-to concoction?

Or…you can do what I did last year and not soak your garlic at all.  I didn’t have any problems, but would that have been a risk you would have taken?  How seriously do you consider the source of your seed stock in determining if you soak the cloves or not?

And then we started talking about rotating allium crops…she doesn’t, I do.

Garlic growers, what are your thoughts?

Flowery Prose gets a makeover.

In part because our spectacular sunny reprieve from winter is coming to an end (up to 10 centimetres of snow is predicted for tomorrow, which reminds me that I needed to buy new winter boots a few days ago…sigh) AND because I’ve been pondering it for some time, I’m announcing some additions to Flowery Prose.

As many of you know, I’m what I term a “microgardener” – I live in a tiny one bedroom apartment (with no balcony or deck) and although I have soil to dig in – I look after the perennial gardens on the property where I live, and I rent a community garden plot every year – I have space limitations like you wouldn’t believe.  Plus, there’s the not-to-be-overlooked-even-if-we-wanted-to fact that it is winter here in Alberta about six or seven months out of the year (if we’re lucky).  In truth, it’s not always possible (or desirable) to post about my gardens’ goings-on, which is why you’ll see me touring other gardens or writing about the plants I see on my hikes or delving into some tidbit of plant lore I find while I’m doing research.

I’m still going to do all of that.  My blog is first and foremost about plants and gardening…I aim to keep the “flowery” in Flowery Prose.

But I’m going to add some topics to the mix.  As a freelance writer, I’ve covered everything from vinegar to minor hockey, and while things won’t be quite that eclectic around here, I’m eager to explore a bit more in the way of local history, nature, cooking and baking, and photography.  I’ve already done a bit of that here in the past…only now I won’t necessarily add a plant or gardening connection.

Except for gardening titles, my book reviews (or whatever you want to call what it is that I do over there) will still be found on my blog The Door is Ajar.  I will still put up new content on my “Alberta snapshots” blog There is a Light, but for any of you who are subscribers to both Flowery Prose and There is a Light, there may be occasional overlaps.  (Flowery Prose will always get the new posts before TIAL).

My Facebook feed for Flowery Prose will remain the same:  all plant stuff, all the time.  (I love to scoop up links from online sources and share them).  My Twitter feed contains links to gardening information, as well as notifications about my writing projects and blogs and anything else I find interesting.

I really, REALLY hope you will enjoy the slightly more diverse content I’m planning…I truly appreciate the fact that I have such wonderful readers.  I always love to hear from you!

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend!  I’m off to buy some boots….

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(Frontenac rose – Devonian Botanical Garden, Devon, AB – July 2013.  Oh, I miss summer already!)

Book review: What’s Wrong With My Vegetable Garden?

What’s Wrong With My Vegetable Garden? 100% Organic Solutions for All Your Vegetables, from Artichokes to Zucchini by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth (2011, Timber Press, Portland)

Want to know why your tomatoes have weird pink spores on them?  Or what is causing the veins on the underside of the leaves of your potatoes to suddenly turn purple?  This book can tell you those things – as well as how to troubleshoot them using organic controls.

Categorized by soil-, light-, temperature- and water-related problems, What’s Wrong With My Vegetable Garden? is a catalogue of pestilence and disease, with precise lists of symptoms to aid in quick diagnosis.  Excellent, full-colour photos accompany assist in the I.D. (if you’re squeamish about bugs or bacteria, don’t look at this book while you’re eating!). Every veggie family has its own problem solving guide, which includes organic solutions to get your garden back up and producing again.  Detailed sowing and cultural practices are also given for each plant family, using the principles of Integrated Pest (Plant) Management.  The focus is on providing the optimal “leg up” for your vegetable garden so that the chance of infection from garden pests is reduced…but should problems arise despite your efforts, you’ll be armed with the proper information to take action.

The layout of this book really shines:  the plant charts are a breeze to search and understand, and – should you require it – there is also a quick-glance index in the back.  The whole package looks great, too (clean lines, highly readable fonts, white space in all the right places), which lends to the ease of access.  I daresay a book like this could completely eliminate those panicked Google searches, you know the ones with the keywords “holes bean plants sticky brown bug” or “my peas have spots.”

What’s Wrong With My Vegetable Garden? really should be in every veggie grower’s library – while it’s not likely a book you will read cover to cover, the storehouse of information it holds might just save your crops one day!

What resources do you use to troubleshoot your garden when you see signs of pests or diseases?  Do you use computer search engines or reach for a book, or do you solicit the advice of someone in person?

I’m taking part in November’s Garden Book Reviews!  Click on over to Roses and Other Gardening Joys to check out the wonderful reviews by all the participating bloggers!

Blight plight.

In a rather roundabout way, I recently received a bulletin from the Government of Alberta regarding Late Blight disease, and as this is something that can potentially affect gardeners all across the province this season, I thought I would post the gist of the message in the hopes that we can stem the spread of this extremely nasty problem.

Last autumn, a handful of lines in a local rag proclaimed “Rotten tomato season in Alberta.”  And you’ve probably noticed that Alberta-grown tomatoes and potatoes have been kind of scarce for awhile now.  The culprit is Late Blight disease, caused by a fungus called Phytophthora infestans (it even SOUNDS ghastly).  It’s actually the same thing that caused the Irish potato famine in the mid 1800’s…well, combined with the poor idea to plant only one potato variety, which was subsequently completely wiped out.  (Monocultures are bad, folks!).   We haven’t had a major outbreak of Late Blight disease in Alberta since 1993, and while the fungus usually sticks to attacking potatoes, for some reason in 2010, tomatoes were severely affected as well.  (Tomatoes and potatoes are part of the same family:  Solanaceae or nightshade, so it naturally follows.  Veggies and flowers such as eggplant, peppers, and petunias might also be harmed).   Late Blight can occur whenever conditions are just humid and cold enough, and the weather of last summer definitely co-operated in that regard.  Unfortunately, the problem wasn’t detected early enough, either, and spread rapidly and rampantly.

Phytophthora infestans cannot survive freezing temperatures, so any spores left in the soil will not have overwintered, BUT infected potatoes in storage may still be carrying the bacteria.  If these potatoes are used for seed (or are stored near new seed potatoes), there will be a problem.  Watch for lesions on potato tubers (and on tomato fruit over this summer.  If you still have fresh tomatoes left over from last year, I have some other questions for you).  Plants growing in the garden this summer may exhibit lesions around the tips of mature leaves that promptly turn yellow and then brown and crispy – these lesions are patchy and aren’t contained within the veins of the leaves like another disease called Early Blight.  Leaves might also show evidence of sporulation:  fuzzy white goop on the undersides, spores that easily transfer by wind or rain down into the soil and subsequently infect plant tubers.

The key is not to panic, and not to avoid planting nightshade crops altogether, but to watch for the signs and symptoms of Late Blight disease and take action if you notice it.  The Government advises burying or freezing affected plant parts (I’m a little bewildered by the “burying” tip – I guess you have to make sure you bury the infected bits well away from healthy plants in the garden so that the spores don’t spread around).  If  you feel you have to compost the pieces, you’re going to have to forgo use of the entire compost pile for awhile and cover it completely with a tarp so that it doesn’t give the spores a chance to spread.  Once the pile has frozen over the winter, it is safe to use it again.

Oh, and hope for a hot, dry summer.  That’s our best ally against Late Blight.

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Check agriculture.alberta.ca – FAQs for more information.  Remember that this disease isn’t only affecting commercial farmers and market gardeners – many cases last year were found in urban residential gardens.  Community gardens may also be at risk.  Be vigilant!

Snow mold bugaboo.

Here it is:  the glass half-full.  As someone who suffers from intense hayfever, the cold, snowy weather and the subsequent setback of plants breaking dormancy has meant that it will be a good month or so yet before I start feeling poorly from the production of effusive amounts of pollen.

Now for the glass half-empty:  there seems to be an abundance of snow mold this year, lolling on lawns in the neighbourhood.  I’ve been sniffling and sneezing for nearly two weeks.  (Okay, I think I’m done whining now.  All expressions of sympathy can be directed to the “comments” section.  I’m big on sympathy).

So, what is snow mold and what can we do about it?  It does indeed look gross:  circular grey-white fuzzy stuff called mycelium matting all over the dormant grass.  It has a sinister quality, just lurking there on top of your lawn like a silent killing machine (not to mention, making some of us sick.  Did I mention the sneezing?).  Snow molds are fungi, and there are several different types:  the kind we probably have here in Calgary is a grey type called Typhula ishikariensis.  Fortunately, despite its appearance,  it’s not likely to cause any sort of permanent damage to turf, as it only affects leaf tissue.  (There is a pink snow mold called Fusarium nivale that can be deadly, as it destroys the crowns of plants affected.  Thankfully it’s not as common as grey snow mold).  Snow mold occurs whenever there is an extended period of snow cover on ground that is not solidly frozen.  The fungus actually lies dormant during the long, hot days of the summer, taking a siesta on the leaves of grasses as tiny black specks called sclerotia.   Any time you mow or walk across the lawn, these miniscule sclerotia go for a ride and gleefully spread, carried on your shoes or your dog’s paws or the mower blades.  Once the temperatures drop to the freezing mark in late fall, the sclerotia spring into action, germinating and producing thousands of spores.  Beneath the cozy blanket of winter snow, the fungus munches on dead organic matter and thrives until exposure in the spring.  (Snow mold cannot freeze because it manufactures special enzymes that keep it from doing so).

While there’s not much you can do about the fungus, as once it’s on the lawn, it’s pretty much taking up permanent residence, you can keep it from making a mess in the spring (and giving me sniffles).  Make sure you clean up all of your leaf litter in the fall, as the fungus holds dead leaves in the same high esteem as I would a gigantic hot fudge sundae.  And keep your lawn short – don’t forgo that last mowing of the season, and don’t leave clippings on the lawn after that final cut.  Don’t fertilize too late in the season, as a huge nitrogen spike at the wrong time can actually contribute to serious winter kill of your turf, and in less extreme cases, aid in the growth of snow mold.  And don’t walk on the lawns in the winter, if you can help it – even what seems to be slight compaction on top of the snow can motivate fungal production.  In late spring, it may be a good idea to spread the snow banks around, dispersing snow over the entire lawn to aid in a more “even” melt.

Even meticulous grooming might not prevent snow mold from rearing its ugly mycelium in the spring, but the fix is easy:  let it be.  No, seriously.  The fungus hates heat and drought and it will go dormant as the weather improves.  You can also rake the grass with a fine-tined tool and that will help immensely (but wear a mask if you don’t want to inhale the spores and sneeze repeatedly.  Like me).  I have also been told that you can use the high pressure setting on the nozzle on your garden hose and give the grass a good rinse – but do it when the day promises heat and drying winds.  If, for some reason, the lawn can’t recover from the effects of the mold, you will need to consider a prescription of topdressing and overseeding, but that’s a rare occurrence.

Glass half full:  snow mold means spring has arrived.  How fantastic is that?!

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Dr. Tom Hsiang, a professor of the Department of Environmental Biology at the University of Guelph, has written some interesting stuff about snow mold at uoguelph.ca/~thsiang/snow/amazing_snowmold.pdf.

gardenline.usask.ca/yards/snow.html

lawncare.about.com/od/turfgrasspests/a/snow_mold.htm