Indoor Plant Care, Outdoor Chores
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This is a bad year for those who suffer from triskaidekaphobia – fear of the number thirteen. But this shouldn’t worry gardeners. When landscaping, as a general rule odd numbers work better than evens. And thirteen, of course, is an odd number.
This works as well inside the home as out in the garden. And grouping plants is not only attractive: it also makes for healthier plants. Even a small collection retains humidity better than a single specimen to the benefit of both plants and their caregivers. Without augmentation, the midwinter air in the average Canadian home has less moisture than that found in the middle of the Sahara. And nothing grows in the middle of the Sahara.
Diversion No. 1
An infestation of alien plague soldier beetles, capable of forming massive swarms, has been found on a ship in Wellington, New Zealand reported The Dominion Post. The AAL Brisbane was targeted for a full inspection, following a recent spate of live beetles found on vessels from Melbourne. Soldier beetles gather in enormous numbers to mate so proving that mere humans have nothing on them when it comes to group sex. It’s enough to make Hugh Hefner retire.
In The New World’s Fair Cookbook and Housekeeper’s Companion (Toronto: 1891), Mrs. M. E. Porter advised on houseplants: how to make them grow. Her suggestions still hold water. “Keep them clean – out of the dust, if possible,” she recommended, “with plenty of pure air, water, and sunshine. Do not have any regular ‘times’ for watering them.
Judge by the surface soil whether they are thirsty. Their need of moisture varies with the temperature of the room and the strength of the sunlight . . . Water thoroughly so as to feed the roots well . . . It should be tepid in temperature. A plant may be chilled by a cold bath as well as a person.” She ended by instructing, “Give the plants a shower bath, if possible, once a week to cleanse the leaves of dust which often clogs up their respiratory organs, and so hinders their development.”
Diversion No. 2
Men with high blood levels of lycopene – the compound that makes tomatoes red – are about half as likely to have a stroke as those low on lycopene, researchers in Finland reported in the journal Neurology, explains Nathan Seppa in Science News. Lycopene also appears in guava, red-fleshed papaya, pink grapefruit, red peppers, rose hips and watermelon.
Subtropical plants saved from last fall – geraniums, impatiens, begonias, hibiscus, fuchsia to name but a few – provide cuttings this month for the coming season. Rooting powder or gel will improve the cuttings chances of “striking’ or forming roots. Keep in bright light but out of direct sun at room temperature, if possible with gentle bottom heat.
Dahlia tubers, either saved or purchased as soon as they arrive in stores, may be increased by potting them up, waiting until the first shoots are four inches or so tall, then snipping these off as cuttings. The parent tubers or ‘mother stock’ will sprout a second time and can be maintained until late May or early June planting out.
Many houseplants make fine additions for summer container plantings on the patio or in window boxes. Amongst these are such old favourites as Spider Plants, Swedish Ivy, and Tradescantia – all of which also provide copious cuttings. As well this makes for a great children’s project, both educational and to raise plants for spring community sales.
Diversion No. 3
A falling squirrel that dropped into an open-topped car triggered a £5,500 insurance claim. In this case, a woman motorist in Britain was so startled by the sudden and unannounced arrival of a bushy-tailed furry passenger that she lost control of the car and ploughed into a tree [Source: The Daily Telegraph]
Pots of flowering bulbs – hyacinths, crocus, tulips, daffodils and narcissus amongst them – have commenced arriving in stores conveying promise of spring arriving some future day. Meanwhile, keep them well watered. It is astonishing how much moisture they can remove from the soil in 24 hours or less. If you can find a cool, bright window out of direct sun, they will last longer.
Taller, top-heavy pots of bulbs tend to tip easily. Drop them, plastic pot and all, into terracotta clay flowerpots or other ceramic containers to avoid this catastrophe. The flower stems of hyacinths and some other bulbs tend to flop over. Staking with kebab sticks is less intrusive than other props.
When flowering has finished, cut back the dead blooms, but leave the foliage and stalks to feed the bulbs. Move to an out-of-the-way window, continue to water until spring or the foliage dies back, then store dry in the garden shed or garage until autumn.
Diversion No. 4
Eddie Archbold, a Florida man who died after eating dozens of live roaches in a cockroach-eating contest choked to death, an autopsy determined. He was declared champion roach-eater after winning the contest, and a snake, at an exotic-pet store in Deerfield Beach, reported The Miami Herald.
According to English folklore, St Hilary’s Day, Sunday, 13th January is the coldest day of the year. Over most of Canada, this honour is likely to be delayed until some day next month, February. St. Hilary, or Hilarius, was Bishop of Poitiers, France in the 4th century. Whatever the truth – and the present winter in England couldn’t get much worse – here the January thaw is to be expected perhaps a week later. A garden inspection at this time is advisable, confirming burlap-screened shrubs are protected, the front lawn is free of dog dung and bird feeders are clean.
Back inside, time to settle back and plan for the coming year. Rest assured, you will be in good company. Michael Caine, for example, has explained, “My days were and still are . . . spent in the garden, a place that fascinates me, and the long winter evenings so dreaded by country-dwellers are spent either planning my garden or swanning around Europe on my satellite, finding out what the rest of the world is doing.”