In the January garden

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

December’s low temperatures have taken a toll on the garden’s tender plants, especially the (usual suspects) aroids, gingers and heliconias. But many plants have kept right on ticking. Should we keep a basic list of what to plant in the future? Perhaps.

Modest in size but outstanding in
color is this Billbergia bromeliad.

A small Billbergia (confession: I’ve lost the species name) is sending out a flower spike. Billbergia is a genus of bromeliad from Mexico or Brazil, and I’ve had this for a number of years but it persists despite me. It resides beneath an avocado tree in some mulch and leaves.  The inflorescence’s colors are brilliant: hot pink, green, and winter-sky blue.

The Christmas cactuses have been

Christmas cactus flowers.

spectacular. Schlumbergera is the genus, and there are a handful of species and umpteen-ump cultivars. Ours have flowers that are fuchsia with light to white centers, and they practically throb with color. I keep one in a south window that is shaded by a Bahamas shutter; a larger plant has its own plant stand on the south side of a porch. I give them a bit of liquid fertilizer in the summer as well as a small amount of Dynamite. To tell when they need water, I pick up the pots. In the fall, as the days are shortening, I let the soil stay dry a little longer. Really dry. Once buds set, I resume the watering.

The Thai crotons didn’t like the cold, nor did the variegated agaves, which have reddened leaves. Martin Motes has reminded recipients of his monthly newsletter that an application of micronutrients will help orchids deal with cold stress, particularly those showing red leaves. Epsom salt mixed with potassium nitrate (1 1/2 tablespoons each in a gallon of water) make a tonic that all our outdoor plants can appreciate. Except for the catasetums, cycnoches, and leafless dendrobiums, keep on a winter schedule of fertilizing (every two weeks) and reduce irrigation. 

A future Monarch butterfly.

There is some good news: very hungry monarch caterpillars – quite suddenly large – have returned to the milkweeds. I harvested a few milkweed seeds in late November, and they’re beginning to pop up.  Walking iris, yesterday-today-tomorrow, Tillandsia bromeliads, even vandas attached to palm trees are blooming like crazy. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed from now until spring.