Wednesday, August 30, 2017

D is for Drosera

Here at the Plant Geeks Garden we have a collection of carnivorous plants.  In the Unites States we are lucky to have many native carnivorous plants, which surprises a lot of people.  They are typically thought to be tropical.  While there are tropical carnivorous plants, we go for the non-tropical types.  We have basically three kinds: Venus Fly Traps, Sarracenias, and Sundews or Drosera.  The true "Plant Geeks" favorites are the Sarracenias.  Mine are the Sundews.

Sundews are one of the largest genera of carnivourouse plants will over 190 species.  They can be found on every continent except for Antarctica.  Sundews like all carnivorous plants, live in soil with very little to no nutrients.  This lack of nutrients is what has necessitated the carnivorous behavior of these plants.  They use a sticky trap to catch their prey.  One the insect dies, the enzymes the plant secrets digests the food and the nutrients are absorbed by the leaves.

Drosera flowers are held high above their leaves making them noticeable to pollinators.  They can reproduce a lot of seeds and are usually self pollinating.  Once you have Sundews, you will usually always have Sundews.  We will often find them in other pots in the carnivorous collection.

Like all of the other carnivorous plants, our Drosera are kept in the greenhouse year round.  They are potted in a peat and perlite/vermiculite mix and kept in cement mixing tubs.  This allows us to maintain good moisture for the plants (Also important).  Due to their "alternative feeding methods" they need water that doesn't have minerals in it.  There are a few different ways to get this type of water.  You can buy it at the store.  You need to check the label, because drinking water typically has added minerals to make it taste good.  Some folks use the condensation off of their dehumidifier or air conditioner.  We have a reverse osmosis system that produces all of the water we need and then some.

Carnivores plants are LOTS of fun!  In some ways it's like having a plant as a pet.  We love sharing information about these interesting and different plants, so if you have questions, or have thought abut picking up one at the local big box store (they are typically sad looking, but will often bounce back with proper care) we would love to chat!

Monday, August 28, 2017

In A Vase Monday: Colocasia 'Diamond Head'

For the last week we have been having cooler weather.  Not being one to waste an opportunity, we've gottent a lot of work done in the garden.  One of today's projects was beating back the tropical garden so we can walk along the pathway that goes through the back side.  Lots of weed were pulled and a bunch of banana and elephant ears we cut back.  this Diamond Head Colocasia was too nice to not try to save.

Yes it really is that big...over a foot wide and about 18 inches long.  It's a little larger than the usual arrangements we have in our house, so it needed to be kept up on the window sill, hopefully away from our cat's mouth.  He LOVE to bit plants (he only eats certain plants, but will bite on all of even cactus).

The sunlight looked really nice coming through it.  You can see all of the leaf's veins and color variations, though you do lose it's dark color.

As it sat in the water, the water started to get darker and darker, sort of like a weird Colocasia tea.  This is what it looked like by dinner time.

The poor leaf has also rapidly started wilting.  I don't expect there to anything left to save by tomorrow.  It was an interesting experiment, but clearly not something I'll probably repeat in the future.  I wish I would have gotten at least a full day out of it.

My second little arrangements is made up of trimming from the Pollinator/Butterfly Garden.  It needed a little taming too and these little blooms were saved from the compost.  It's up on a shelf that our kitty can't reach...he nibbles on flowers too.

Want to see other's arrangements?  Visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who hosts In a Vase on Monday meme.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

T is for Tillandsia

Tillandsias, or Air Plants, have recently become a lot more popular.  Admittedly this member of the bromeliad family is pretty cool, so that popularity is well deserved.  I remember seeing them for sale in shells on Florida vacations when I was a kid.  I was fascinated with how they didn't need soil and didn't seem to have roots to get water.

With over 500 species there is lots of variety on the market.  Tillandsias are the most widely dispersed of the bromeliads.  They are found in North, Central and South America in a variety of environments (rain forests, beaches, and deserts) and in almost any exposure.  They can grow on tree trunks, branches, shrubs, cacti, and rocks.  They also range in size, anywhere from 1 to 40 inches.

These plants seem to defy everything we know about plants.  How do they get nutrients and water?  They actually do have small roots, that are mainly for stabilization rather than supplying the plant with nutrients or water.  Tillandsias need to be misted with water regularly, and can benefit from being soaked in water if needed.  Mounted plants need to be drenched regularly since they dry out more.  They can be fertilized twice a month with a diluted acidic fertilizer while actively growing.  It just needs to sprayed onto the leaves.  They like bright light and some can take almost full sun.  Plants that have hard, thick, gray leaves tolerate more light than the green/gray-green thinner leaves. 

Most tillandsias are mounted to something, like the wood ours are attached to, or the shells from my Florida vacations.   There are few different ways to mount tillandsias.  Some folks use mono-filament and others use an adhesive.  We used E600 to mount ours.  We joke that you E600 will attach anything to anything, and it hasn't let us down. 

There are even three species native to Texas (baileyi, recurvata, and usneoides).  I was honestly surprised when I read this, since I have always thought of them as being more tropical.  Tillandsia baileyi is also know as Giant Ball Moss and is hardy to zone 9 and 10.  It is only found along the gulf coast of Texas.  Tillandsia recurvata, or Small Ball Moss, is hardy to zone 8b-10.  We have seen it locally at a botanical garden in the area.  Tillandsia usneodies is also know as Spanish Moss.  I'm sure most gardeners are familiar with this one.  While all of these are technically Tillandsia, they are probably not what most people think of when they think of a Tillandsia. 

You can often find Tillandsia at local garden centers and nurseries, but if you really want to dive into all they have to offer, you should check out the internet and see what is really available.  You can also get more information from local bromeliad societies and potentially plants if they host plant sales.

This isn't a plant that you can build a garden around, but they make a great accent and conversation piece.  Definitely something fun to add to your plant collection!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Ain't No Party Like and Eclipse Watching Party

Today was a big day in science, especially since I'm an informal science educator.  Here in North Texas we got to see about a 75% eclipse.  I was part of a big Eclipse watching event today held in the Fort Worth area.  It was also the first day of school for a lot of folks in the area, so everyone was pretty nervous about attendance and participation.  As it turns out, that was not a worry we should have had.  In fact, we had so many people that some of the viewing areas fill up within minutes.

People out on the lawn watching the eclipse at 1:02 central time

 I helped with the "eclipse model" activity.  As you can see below, this activity takes some very fancy materials.  The ping pong ball represents the earth and the bead represents the moon.  So basically the scale of this model is 1" = 8,000 miles.  Since the earth and moon are about 240,000 miles apart, our bead and ball are 30" apart.

A model used to explain what happens during an eclipse

 We used a flood light as our sun.  In a solar eclipse the moon moved between the sun and the earth casting a shadow as it goes.  Since the moon isn't very big as compared to the earth (though at 2,000 miles in diameter it isn't exactly small) the shadow only covers part of earth.  This explains why the eclipse isn't viewable from all of earth.

See the moon's shadow on the ping pong ball (aka earth)

 I did manage to get outside for a little bit of the eclipse and even got to use a coworkers fancy glasses to get a look!  We tried to take a picture through them, but as you can see below, that didn't exactly work.

My fabulous eclipse photo

 Besides the special glasses there were a few other ways to view the eclipse.  Some people brought their own pinhole viewing boxes and others created pinhole viewers at the event.  A few volunteers also had telescopes set up for people to look through.  In addition to all of the outside stuff, there was a live feed of the eclipse available inside, where it was air conditioned.  On a 92 degree day, it's something to consider.  The key was to not look directly at the sun, because it can damage your eyes.  Granted, unless you have been living off the grid or under a rock for the last few weeks, I'm sure you already know that.

Looking at the eclipse through some pegboard

Across town, the "True Plant Geek" was able to spend a lot more time outside and got a few shots that show the crescent shaped shadows.  It was probably a more peaceful way to enjoy the happenings.

Shadows during the eclipse
Next eclipse in the United States will be Monday, April 8, 2024!  It will go through many major cities including Dallas, Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Cleveland, Ohio; and Buffalo, New York.  Like this year, other areas will see a partial eclipse.

I hope you all got to take some time, watch this solar eclipse and enjoy some exciting science!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Who Lives Here: Pretty Petunia

Part of our garden is actually a home for our tortoise Petunia.  He is a Testudo marginata or marginated tortoise.  This type of tortoise is unique looking due to its extremely flared marginal scutes from which it gets its name.  They are native to Greece, Italy and the Balkans in southern Europe and are the larges Mediterranean tortoises.  They can get up to 14 inches long and  8-12 pounds.  Petunia weighs about 1.5 pounds right now.

Petunia was actually almost named Lithops.  We thought the "Living Stone" reference was hilarious.  Instead he was named after a petunia plant that was his "happy place" when he first arrived in his garden enclosure.  "Petunia" started as a sort of nick-name place holder while we auditioned other names and it stuck.  Since he spent so much time under the Petunia and eating the Petunia, it just seemed right. Eventually Petunia's nibbling and the Texas summer heat killed the poor plant.

Marginateds eat dark leafy greens, weeds and some grasses.  They do not need to eat meat or fruit and consuming either can lead to digestive issues.  Fountain grasses, maiden grasses, sedum, spirea, hosta, knockout rose, hibiscus and stone crop are good choices for a tortoise garden.  Currently we have hibiscus, fountain grass, coleus, grasses, clover, sedum, mints, Lamium, and purslane in Petunia's garden.  We also have a few places for him to hide and climb.  We also give him a little tortoise salad daily in his food dish.  Variety is the key when feeding a tortoise.

A view of his garden
Marginated tortoises hibernate in the wild.  We still have not decided if we plan on hibernating him this winter or not.  The gentleman we got him from provides a heated hide for all of his tortoises and most do not hibernate.  We may create a little tortoise greenhouse hide in the enclosure before the cold weather arrives in November.  As a really bad weather back-up we always have the main greenhouse (that has a heater) or the garage.  Since the really cold weather never sticks around too long here that should serve as a good emergency plan.

The other side of his L-shaped garden enclosure

Petunia took a long time to settle in and is a very shy tortoise overall.  He is also reluctant to eat out of his food dish and enjoys grazing on the plants in his garden. He does seem to enjoy an evening soak with a tasty treat.  I am by no means an expert on tortoises, but we definitely are enjoying our new friend.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Folliage Follow-Up: August 2017

 Welcome to my Foliage Follow-up.  Normally I don't do a foliage follow-up but today, I really wanted to talk about my new favorite foliage in the garden....the Papaya (Carica papaya).  It all started with a meeting at work.  They had catered in snacks for us, which is very out of the ordinary.  On the one fancy fruit tray was half a papaya full of seeds.  I got it in my head then and there that I needed the seeds and needed to grow them.

So I talked to the event manager at work and took home a cup half full of fresh papaya seeds and went home to do some research on how to proceed.  I let them dry out and then turned them over to the true Plant Geek and he germinated them for me.  It took a little while, but we got quite a few to germinate and start growing, then they all sort of stalled out.  A few died and the rest were looking very pitiful.  We ended up adding a papaya tree (T. R. Hovey) onto a nursery order we were already making just in case.  As you can see below, some of our little seedlings made it and are doing great.  They will spend the winter in the greenhouse and be put out in the garden next spring.

The one we purchased online is planted out in the back row of the tropical garden.  It's taller than the fence and the leaves are enormous.  They really add some great texture to that part of the garden.  The Banana and Alocasia leaves are so smooth and solid compared to the open Papaya leaves.

We have a few buds forming so maybe we'll get flowers.  Through research I've learned that there are male flowers, female flowers, and hermaphrodite flowers.  T. R. Hovey has hermaphrodite flowers.  Hermaphrodite flowers are most sought after by growers as they are self pollinating and can give you a papaya fruit.

Papaya trees grow best in USDA growing zones 9 and 10

Read more at Gardening Know How: Papaya Tree Facts: Growing Info And Care of Papaya Fruit Trees
Papaya trees grow best in zones 9 and 10 and I live in zone 8a, so doubt I'll end up with any fruit.  Still it is a pretty neat plant in the garden.  Thanks for visiting for my August foliage followup.  If you want to see more fabulous foliage join up with Pam at Digging, for her Foliage Follow-up.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day August 2017

Welcome to Garden Bloggers Boom Day.  It's August in North Texas and like always, it's hot and pretty dry this time of year.  It isn't the best looking time of year for our garden.  Most gardeners in these parts are keeping things alive and the weeds at bay waiting for fall and the cooler weather.  We are no different (only we are not battling very hard against the weeds and they are starting to win a few places).

Right now our Rain Lilies (Zephyranthes) are blooming like crazy.  A bonus of a wet summer, well besides the bonus of water.  All of our Rain Lilies are in the Agave Garden in one of our "Hell Strips".  This is a particularly narrow one that only took two swipes of a mower to mow when we first moved it.  Now it's planted with Agaves, Sedums, and Rain Lilies.  All of the rain comes out of the backyard, down the driveway and into this bed.  We've capped off the irrigation, so it isn't regularly watered.

We have a few different kinds planted and since they self sow, they should increase in numbers each year.  This is their second summer being planted in this garden.

Ignore the purslane.  I know it's a weed, but it's also great tortoise food.  So it's slowly getting removed and fed to Petunia our male marginated tortoise.  Mediterranean tortoises eat a lot of weeds and grasses.  His favorites include dandelions and hibiscus flowers.  Purslane is not a favorite, but it is healthy, so it gets served regularly.

These orange ones are a favorite of mine.  I love the saturated color and the stripiness on the petals.  It's one of my favorite patterns flowers can have in my opinion.  I love unusual patterning and spotting.

An old topiary Hibiscus recently bloomed for the first time.  We overwintered it and then didn't have a good place for it, so it's actually in Petunia's enclosure.  He didn't get to eat this bloom, instead he got purslane for his evening snack (kidding, he got a pink hibiscus bloom).

We still have some plants around the pool blooming, though this is one of the locations where the mites did their dirty work. The hardy Hibiscus are still going strong.  I'm enjoying them so much during the heat of August, that I'm thinking of adding a few tall varieties to the barrier garden as a sort of backdrop when we re-do it this fall.

The Plumbago is enjoying it's new found freedom away from it's sweet potato vine oppressor and is blooming like crazy. 

We are also still getting to enjoy a bunch of re-blooming daylilies. Such a treat!  Since basically our entire daylily garden was transplanted from our old house to this garden, last summer's bloom season wasn't very spectacular.  It makes this year seem even better.

'Webster's Pink Wonder'

'Sweet Seneca Butterflies'
'Barbara Mitchel'
'Painted Trillium'

'Cobbs Hill Jester'

Finally we stop at the Butterfly/Pollinator garden.  It is still blooming, though it is starting to show some stress from the heat.  Both milkweeds are looking good.


 As are the random Rudbeckia we got on our Oklahoma Daylily trip and the lantanas that were added for summer color.  The Rudbeckia had been mislabeled so the nursery didn't know what it was exactly, only that it wasn't what they ordered.  We liked so we added it to one of our daylily purchases and brought it home.

Thanks for taking the time to see what we having going on in the garden!  If you are interested in seeing more gardens visit May Dreams Garden to see other's Garden Blogger's Bloom Day posts.

Monday, August 14, 2017

We Make New Plants: The Daylily Edition

Last year we got interested in daylily hybridizing.  Daylily plants do not come true from seed, so they are mostly propagated by division.  What we are doing is putting the pollen from one daylily onto a different daylilies stamen.  There's a little more to it that this (diploid vs. tetraploid, daytime temperatures, etc) but at it's core, this what hybridizing it.  If the cross takes the plants forms a seed pod, like the one in this picture.

Every cross doesn't take and even the ones that do sometimes stop growing.  But some make it all the way.  As the ripen they start to turn brown and crack open.  When they have cracked it's time to harvest the seeds.  We let them dry out for a few days on the kitchen counter and then bag them and store them in the fridge for a few weeks.

This is where we are at right now.  We have planted some of the earlier crosses, but still have some more in the fridge waiting their turn.  Tonight we saw the first few sprouts poking out of the soil.  I was honestly concerned that it would be really hard to get crosses to take, so I went with a little bit more of a shotgun approach this year than was probably useful.  It's really easy to get carried away with whatever is blooming and loosing site of any goals you have set.

Overall we are into large flowers, REALLY tall flowers, and bright colors.  I personally also like miniatures and have a few orders waiting to be shipped this fall that will add some minis to the collection.  Even with my rather random approach, I think I still made some great crosses.  I'll have to wait at least a year to see their blooms and even longer than that to really evaluate the vigor and habit of each plant.  Here are a few bellow.

This first cross this 'Velvet Eyes' with 'Velvet Ribbons'.    This was honestly not a very well thought out cross.  'Velvet Eyes' has 30" scapes with small 4.25" flowers.  I love it's color and it has great vigor, lots of scapes and reblooms in our garden.  'Velvet Ribbons' is a 44" tall and has an 11" flower.  I LOVE black daylilies and spider forms, so this is definitely a favorite of mine.  Both of these plants proved to be really good parent plants, assuming they make pretty, tall, and interesting babies.

This 'Sweet Seneca Butterflies' 'The Tingler' cross was something I had planned last summer.  'Sweet Seneca Butterflies has a 2-1/2" flower and a 18" scape, though it's flowers tend to be a little larger in our garden.   'The Tingler' has a 47" scape and 9" flower.  We purchased both on a trip to New York for a family wedding.  'Sweet Seneca Butterflies' came from Grace Gardens in Penn Yan, NY and was hybridized by Kathy Rood.  'The Tingler' was purchased at Cottage Gardens.  For whatever reason I have always wanted to cross the two.  One is a miniature and the other is a large unusual formed flower.  Now sure what will happen, but hopefully something interesting.

The final cross I'm going to talk about today was one between 'Euro-mazing' (another favorite of mine) and 'Velvet Ribbons'.  Euro-mazing was hybridized in 2003 and had no registered child plants.  Chances are there's a reason for that, probably one I'll see when these seeds germinate and bloom (assuming they do).  It has a 29" scape and 9" unusual form flower. Hopefully 'Velvet Ribbons'  will bring it's even taller and larger size to the party and I'll get some dark black/purples with unusual form.

Hybridizing, like a lot of horticulture, is a little science, a little art, and a lot of patients.  Hopefully these won't take too long to get to bloom size plants.  I hope you enjoyed my rambling about of new gardening obsession.