4 November 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
For those of us cheered by flowers, let us turn our attention to housebound blooms, especially during the raw, rainy days of November.
The denizens of our window-sills and plant stands depend more on air and soil moisture, temperature, light, and ventilation than the soil itself, for you can easily modify soil but light and humidity need to be managed by the indoor gardener and this is not always possible.
A humidifier or even a pebble and water filled tray may bring moldy ruin to your surroundings, even the bathroom. Outdoor shade may not be something over which you have any control; the light may be short-lived because of exterior obstructions — trees, buildings, fences.
These are the factors that determine gardening success; so its important that you choose plants matching your interior climate rather than whimsy, unless youre interested in making costly structural changes, which is unlikely.
Select whatever blooms continuously with little coaxing and tolerates the forced hot air systems that characterize many homes today. Rather than respond to the gorgeous blooms that beckon from the shelves of your favorite nursery or even the grocery store florist, survey your living spaces and decide what conditions prevail. With a list of those conditions scrutinize whats available, whether online or on the street and choose wisely.
There are of course some boilerplate plants that will laugh and smile regardless of how you treat them. On that short list are the African violet (Saintpaulia) and Cape primrose (Streptocarpus). They are cousins coming from the same family &mdash Gesneriaceae but each from a different genus. They need damp light soil and bright indirect light. To assure them of the delicate moisture they love, provide either the pebble and water saucer or a self watering pot.
My homemade potting soil has evolved over the years as my pocketbook has shrunk and my compost has fattened. No longer do I flush away the soluble salts of commercial fertilizers, for none accumulate; no white rings or granules adorn my pots and plants.
The recipe? Compose the growing medium from one-part mature leaf mold, two-parts humus from the depths of the compost bin and one-part coarse sand or shredded biodegradable cornstarch packing peanuts. The humus and leaf mold provide a slow-release fertilizer with trace minerals, those other critical nutrients besides the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium of the usual N-P-K fertilizer.
When watering, hasten the evaporation of chlorine and other volatile organic chemicals with a two-minute rolling boil; then store in a glass gallon jug for at least 24 hours. For those with water filters, this may be unnecessary. Do not use softened water because the sodium will damage root systems.
The Virginia Master Gardener Manual recommends baking garden soil on a rimmed tray at 180F for 30 minutes to rid it of the microscopic inhabitants that created the humus. This seems counterintuitive; so I do not pasteurize my soil and have observed only improved plant vigor, no escaping creatures or fluffy mold. Let the blooms begin!
Tip of the Week
Peat, a common element in potting soil, effectively holds moisture and provides valuable nutrients; however, peat is declining rapidly as the bogs from which it is extracted are drained and demolished. Nurseries are substituting composted coconut "peat", and pine bark — satisfactory alternatives but less nutritious than finished compost.