}

September 28, 2015

GROWING YOUR OWN CITRUS AT HOME

In a week or so, I will be relocating most of my city, such as this variegated Calamondin orange, back into the greenhouse for the winter.

One of the first houseplants I ever grew all by myself was a grapefruit tree. I was probably around ten years old when I found some grapefruit seeds already sprouted in a half of a grapefruit which my dad would always serve us kids for breakfast. It was winter, before school, and being the youngest, I was small enough to grab the choicest seat at the breakfast table - on the hot radiator under the window. Grapefruits always remind me of hot butts and Maypo. Long story.



A larger view of this larger Calamondin plant, which is quickly growers too large for its container.

I potted those pre-germinated seeds up secretly, and set the pot on the windowsill in my room and you can probably foretell the rest of the story. What I didn't know then, was that even though I raised that plant into a large shrubby and thorny monster which I regretted leaving behind when I went to college, it was only later when I realized the sad truth - that the odds of seeing that tree bloom and produce edible fruit, were slim to none. Flowers maybe, but most likely, mostly thorns and foliage. Not to mention scale, mealy bug and the other host of pests citrus trees indoors eventually succumb to.

The 'Loimequat' just completed blooming, it's second bloom this summer.

I really didn't' care much at that point. As many of you who have raised citrus indoors have discovered, the damaged  or bruised leaves on a citrus plant smell of the essential oils somewhat, and even the roots carry a scent which one discovers when repotting.

Larger Limequats are maturing, but they will turn bright yellow when they are fully ripe.

 After many years of attempting citrus indoors, they remain a favorite, even though I have much better success now with them in the cool greenhouse, it was not that long ago when our home seemed to have citrus trees in most every room that had a window, particularly the cooler, unheated rooms in the winter - empty bedrooms with an Eastern exposure, and in the studio where my father painted his paintings which was heated with a wood stove (eventually, however, the wood stove made the room too hot for them, and many perished - but when he only heated it during the daytime, the plants enjoyed the temperature shift at night when it could dip near 50º F. They love that.

Fortunella hindsii, is a very tiny citrus. They will look much nicer when they mature and turn reddish orange.


 If you've been dreaming about owning a few citrus plants and raising your own fruit indoors, here are a few of my tips which I have discovered and implemented over the years.

1. Have patience, or buy a blooming sized plant.

Let me tell you a story about 8 year old Matt. With a 1968 Parks Seed catalog in hand, I walked on my knees into my mothers bedroom (yeah, it worked - don't laugh - we were Catholic and I was an alter boy - we had secret powers.), pointing at a key lime tree for something like, $5.99. We ordered it, and as I dreamed of key lime pie for eternity, it ended up seeming like eternity when the little 2 inch pot finally grew large enough to produce a flower, and then a fruit - (which promptly fell off - I don't know why, it happens for many reasons, so be ready for that, too).


Now that it is larger, this grafted Mandarin orange tree looks like it will be loaded with Mandarin oranges, very similar to 'Clementines', which is a seedless 'Mandarin' type.

This is particularly important if you are engaging your children to help raise the tree, since unless you live in southern California or south Florida, the idea of raising citrus indoors is pure magic, and nothing kills the high of magic with pre-millennials like time. I'm not suggesting that you buy a tree already blooming or with fruit on it, just be sure to get one which is a. grafted (which will ensure blooming at an early age) and b. A variety suitable for growing indoors. I suggest Logee's Greenhouses, naturally, but there are plenty of other sources as well - just do your research. I would target the price of $35 - the average price of all of mine.

2. Be Realistic - Remember, all commercial citrus are grafted. (i.e. Don't believe everything that you read on gardening  blogs.).

I'm not being mean, but if I read one more blog post about "Raise your own lemons from seed!" or see a pinterest pin that reads  "Kids DIY Clementines from seed!", I will scream. If you want to teach your kids about how to grow plants from seed, terrific ( I mean, come on, look how I started!), but explain to them what they are really doing. Now, I am not suggesting that you teach them how to graft (although, my next door neighbor Paul did win our science project in 5th grade with a grafting project utilizing bees wax from his fathers hives, leaving one little dude's Hummingbirds of the World (sculpted in clay) in second place, but I am over that. Really), but a grafting project does seem to make more sense if you really want to teach something practical and real.

By the way, the same thing goes for apples.


We now keep many large tubs of various varieties of Citron, this one has lost its label, but I know that it is different than 'Etrog', one used in many Jewish ceremonies.

3. Be bold, and try some Citron's indoors this winter, they are very grow-able.
Large citrus to very well indoors. All you need is a large pot, good sandy soil and some scissors to trim the long, sharp thorns off with, since they can tear cloths, skin and be a risk to your pets' eyes. It's the fruit however which are awesome, fragrant and flavorful. Most are pithy, with very little flesh, but the pith is sweet and often crispy. It candy's well if poached in simple syrup and makes terrific marmalade. Of course, you could just keep the fruit on the tree, as a natural air freshener, and to show off to visitors.

This large 'Etrog' citron, is only about half mature, it will be nearly the size of a football before I will harvest it.

WIth some heavy rain expected this week, our apples and banana's will be grateful. Not a very New England looking garden, certainly, but in a few weeks, autumn will transform the garden into what a calendar photo in October should look like - pumpkins, sugar maples and winter squash. Bananas will retire for for the season.

September 22, 2015

MY ONGOING BEGONIA AND GESNERIAD DENIAL

This Petrocosmea, may change your mind about gesneriads - those African Violet relatives that just may make better terrarium plants than, well, terrarium plants. I am convinced once other garden bloggers catch on, these will be as popular as succulents. Oh, and in case you are wondering, succulents make sucky terrarium plants.  With it's Epic Fibonacci-ness aside. It's really true: - "once you go hairy, it ain't so scary" -  Cool rooms, bright light.

A collection of small, Petrocosmea plants.

Sometimes, I am just my own worst enemy. Sure, I can just keep saying it over and over again to people - " well, you know….I just can't get that  interested in gesneriads or even begonias for that matter. I don't have the room, and they really don't interest me that much.".

Right.

OK, OK...I am kind-of a 'social collector 'of  gesneriads and begonias. As in "I only do them on weekends". Besides,  sorry folks, but I just I can't every single plant society….(or can I?). I'd love to, but  perhaps not just now. I just 'dabble' in various genera, like a few of you, I know!

Since the American Begonia Society held it's national show in nearby Natick, MA a month ago, this show was not judged (the begonia portion), but this particular group - The Buxton Branch of the American Begonia Society is rather famous among plant societies. You can find out more, here.


This smart Rhizomatous begonia 'Tiger Kitten' comes was entered by Mary Beth Hayes, of Chelmsford, MA. Still young, this will make a fine specimen plant.


I left this weekends duo exhibition at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA with two begonias and one gesneriad ( a very nice one that was gifted to Joe by a member because he asked for a cutting). So clearly, they are making their way into the collection bit by bit. And just because I placed an order for more African Violets and have dedicated an entire bench to fibrous begonias in the greenhouse doesn't mean that I have any interest at all in the plants. End of story.

This Rhizomatous begonia ( my favorite, if I liked begonias) is a striking variety called 'Persian Brocade' This was raised by Jocelyn Sherman of Middletown, RI.


Most serious begonia growers raise their plants in glass containers.


This rather exotic looking Columnea minor looks anything but minor. A twining, rambling plants, it's blossoms where extraordinary. Within a genus of over 200 species, this one makes it on my wish list. I think you can find one here when they are back in stock, or here. What a magnificent windowsill plant, and I would never ever think of ordering one, simply from the catalog shots. You really need to see the whole plant full grown.

If you live in an apartment, or don't have a greenhouse, the broad and highly interesting group of plants known collectively as Gesneriads ( mainly those within  Gesneriaceae), offer tremendous diversity in both size, and habit. We all know about the most common family members, the Siningia (Gloxinia is one) and Sainpaulia (the African Violets), but there are SO many more to discover. You may be surprised at how many gesneriads you can collect, from the tiniest gems only an inch or so wide, to massive outdoor perennials. Mostly, they are warm, tropical and fuzzy leaved yet some have glossy leaves. Some are vining, while others grow in perfect rosettes. Most have spectacular flowers.

…although the judges seems to think otherwise.

Without defending my position any more, here are some very poor iPhone images from this past weekends' shows at Tower Hill. All kidding aside, both gesneriads (those often fuzzy-leaved plants in the same family as African Violets) and begonias make terrific terrarium and window-sill plants, and they make for a curious and interesting option to most plants sold as terrarium plants, so look for them either on-line (some of my favorite sources for really interesting terrarium plants are listed below) or at your better garden centers.

I'm not sure how I feel about these newer Streptocarpus varieties, but they sure are striking.


So here is my problem. While at the show, people would spot me as ask why I didn't enter anything, and i would respond with one of my typical excuses (afraid to admit the truth, which was that I just wanted to be a little selfish with my time). I do like African Violets and Streptocarpus though, and it is usually around mid autumn when I crave new or memorable old varieties for my winter windows. These are perfect indoor plants, either under artificial light, or on east, or west - even northerly exposure windows. Who doesn't want some color when it is snowing outside?


Related to the florist Gloxinia, this Sinningia bullata x sinning tubiflora grows from a bulb-like structure. 



These excuses such as "I am not really all that 'into' begonia's only took me 'so far', since it appears that most of these people were blog followers ( oh…right….that blog). Dang.

'We know you have amazing begonias" shouted one person.
Another said "Oh, I know you! I follow your blog - look…. (as she showed me photos of some of the dahlia varieties I had suggested that readers might like to grow.".


The same woman then showed me English Sweet Peas that she grew herself, after taking my class last winter at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. That's so nice to see! I love it when people actually have success with trying new things. FYI - my next class is in early November - Raising Exhibition Chrysanthemums - reserve your seat today!

Ugh, 'that' blog. It always gets me in trouble!

So much for being anonymous.


GO now and stock-up on some fabulous house plants before it gets too cold to order them! Come this winter, you will thank me.


Sources - in the US:

Lyndon Lyon - African Violets and Gesneriads
Kartuz Greenhouses - for loads of interesting gesneriads and tropicals
The Violet Barn - Nice Streptocarpus (and African Violets)
Mountain Orchids - Amazing dwarf begonias and smaller orchids, ferns and curiosities.
Logee's Greenhouses - Some nicer Streptocarpus and interesting terrarium plants as well.

Interested in knowing more?

Try the Gesneriad Society
Or the American Begonia Society
and look for local chapters near you and be sure to check their links for more plant sources.