Archives For December 2013

A Paphiopedilum, or lady slipper orchid, is another popular orchid with collectors: it prefers high humidity and indirect light, faring best in eastern early morning light. But how do you ensure early success?

PHOTO: Closeup of a Paphiopedilum micranthum slipper orchid bloom.

Paphiopedilum micranthum lady slipper orchid bloom

Just as we learned in our first video, Repotting Orchids, Part 1: Phalaenopsis, it’s always best to repot your orchids shortly after purchasing them—the sphagnum moss in which they are sold provides too much constant moisture for the plant, and can damage the delicate, epiphytic root system.

Anne Nies, a master’s degree candidate in the Garden and Northwestern University’s Plant Biology & Conservation program, is an expert in all things orchids, both native and tropical. She is also a member of the Illinois Orchid Society, which holds its spring and fall orchid shows at the Garden. She took some time this past fall to show me (and you) how to repot our orchids to maintain a healthy growing environment.

Our second video details step-by-step instructions for repotting a Paphiopedilum orchid, which has different watering and culture needs from a Phalaenopsis. After your initial purchase and repotting, you should repot your orchid when your plant has finished blooming.

Mark your calendars for the Garden’s newest exhibition, the Orchid Show (purchase tickets here). Orchid lovers of all levels are sure to learn a lot more about orchids at the show. Can’t wait!


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Phalaenopsis, or moth orchid, is called the “gateway orchid” for beginning collectors: it requires very little care, and yields great rewards with blooms that last up to three months! Early success with a moth orchid leads growers to try other species and, finally, to orchid addiction. But how do you ensure early success?

PHOTO: Phalaenopsis 'Timothy Christopher' moth orchid in bloom.

Phalaenopsis ‘Timothy Christopher’

As a new orchid grower, I was not aware you had to repot your orchids shortly after purchasing them because they are often packed in sphagnum moss, which provides too much moisture for the plant. I was also not aware that you should repot your orchids every one to two years to maintain healthy plants. 

Anne Nies, a master’s degree candidate in the Garden and Northwestern University’s Plant Biology & Conservation program, is an expert in all things orchids, both native and tropical. She is also a member of the Illinois Orchid Society, which holds its spring and fall orchid shows at the Garden. She took some time this past fall to show me (and you) how to repot our orchids to maintain a healthy growing environment.

Our first video details step-by-step instructions for repotting a Phalaeanopsis orchid. Stay tuned for part two next week, when Anne reviews the different approach used in repotting a Paphiopedilum orchid, which has different watering and culture needs. 

Video note: soaking the orchid you are repotting in virucide should not be a replacement for watering. After soaking the plant in the solution, repot and water well. Make sure your container has good drainage holes, is planted in a well-draining bark media (not moss), and the plant is never allowed to sit in a saucer of water.

Mark your calendars for the Garden’s newest exhibition, the Orchid Show (purchase tickets here). Orchid lovers of all levels are sure to learn a lot more about orchids at the show. Can’t wait! 

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A circle, a ring, a wreath

Karen Z. —  December 22, 2013 — 4 Comments

“A ring speaks of strength and friendship and is one of the great symbols of mankind.”

Those are the words of Jens Jensen, the great landscape designer who celebrated the native and the natural and often included circular council rings in his garden plans.  

At the holidays, we hang wreaths on our doors as symbols of love, of welcome, of community. Twenty-nine wreaths, all handmade by our horticulturists and staff, are currently drawing visitors to the galleries at the Wonderland Express exhibition, and the detail and craftsmanship in them is amazing. (The answer to the frequently asked question “Can you buy them?” is yes—pick them up after January 5, the final day of Wonderland Express. Proceeds from the sale of the wreaths go to fund the Garden’s programs.)

Ring in the new year with our staff’s creative interpretations of the circle, the ring, the wreath.

PHOTO: Six types of colorful indian corn—husks facing outward as a fringe—create this wreath.

This is a BIG wreath—great for an outdoor wall.

Flint. Dent. Sweet. Flour. Pod. Pop. Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg celebrates these six major types of corn—and beautiful heirloom varieties with names like ‘Blue Jade’, ‘Glass Gem’, and ‘Golden Bantam’—in a seasonless sunburst.

PHOTO: An owl made from natural materials perches in this cotton boll wreath.

The French saying on this wreath translates to, “the moon is my light and my joy.”

Monica Vachlon (administrative assistant of horticulture) and Jacob Burns (herbaceous perennial plant curator) built a wintry vignette around a charming mascot dubbed “Mr. Who.”

Children’s educator Kathy Johnson used just one ingredient for her made-by-hand wreath: natural raffia. It’s hand-knotted into evergreen sprays and red berries, and crocheted into a life-like cardinal couple, nesting at the bottom.

PHOTO: A hand-crocheted raffia cardinal.

Even the branches of this wreath are made of raffia.

A nursery grower in our production greenhouse by day, Lorin Fox is an artist and woodcarver off-hours. A close look at his wreath reveals the mushrooms he hand-carved from tagua nuts and cedar.

PHOTO: Incredibly realistic hand-carved wooden mushrooms on a real piece of wood.

Everlasting mushrooms were hand-carved from wood and nuts.

Star-shaped flowers are made from milkweed pods, with a crabapple at the center.

Star-shaped flowers are made from milkweed pods, with a crabapple at the center.

The supersized fruit of ‘Ralph Shay’ crabapple dot the centers of milkweed pod “flowers” on this dramatic, dried Baptisia wreath by ecologist Dave Sollenberger. He foraged all of the materials from gardens here and at home.

PHOTO: Wreath of grapevine, cotton bolls, and hydrangea.

Cotton turned up as a natural and everlasting element in several wreaths.

Wonderland Express = teamwork. So thoughtfully did the team from the Development Department (spearheaded by Lisa Bakker) brainstorm, gather, and plan for their wreath that it took them just two lunch breaks to assemble and decorate it.

All summer long, assistant horticulturist Leah Pilon kept a sharp eye out for materials that dried well: the Carex seed pods, okra, millet, dried flowerheads (Green Ball dianthus), and Engelmann creeper vine (for the bow) were all collected in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

PHOTO: Wreath created from millet, with evergreens, carex seedpods, a lotus pod and a creeper vine bow.

Even okra works on this wreath made from materials in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

Horticulturist Ayse Pogue pays tribute to her Mediterranean roots with a fragrant wreath made of juniper and olive branches. Tucked in in delicate sprays, tiny spray-painted alder cones stand in for “olives.”

PHOTO: Wreath made of real olive leaves and faux olives.

Real olive leaves, with faux olive fruit (they’re alder cones, painted black).

PHOTO: Large, heart-shaped wreath made from grape vines.

Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, birthdays, showers, weddings: proof that one wreath can do it all.

In simplicity is elegance. Made from grapevines growing in McDonald Woods, this heartfelt wreath by senior horticulturist Heather Sherwood can hang indoors or out. Leave it up straight through February 14.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Seed Pools and Jacuzzis

Improving the health of your saved seeds

Mike Kwiatek —  December 19, 2013 — 3 Comments

Have you ever spent days tending to seeds only to find that they rot shortly after sprouting? If you want your seeds to grow into big healthy plants, you should take the precaution of treating them to prevent fungal and bacterial diseases.

Seeds can catch diseases from diseased parents or plants around them. Fungal infections are common because spores can travel on the wind or in water droplets and may land on seeds, sometimes penetrating the outer layers of the seed coat and remaining until germination. When the seed sprouts, the new soft tissue offers a welcome home for the fungus to grow. Bacterial pathogens sometimes will infect the embryo of the seed itself, so the tough outer seed coat protects the bacteria too! When the seed germinates, the bacteria grows and infects the young seedling.

Don’t worry! There is a way to save your seeds from this cruel fate! We use two methods to help prevent disease in seedlings: bleach treatment and heat treatment.

Bleach treatment

PHOTO: Pumpkin and tomato seeds.

Pumpkin seeds (left) require bleach treatment, while tomato seeds (right) will require heat treatment.

If you’re working with squash or melon family members, asparagus, or zinnia seeds, you will want to give them the bleach treatment. These plants are rarely—if ever—infected from within the seed coat. Use heat treatment for seeds of the tomato family, (tomato, eggplant, pepper), carrot family (carrot, celery, parsley, cilantro), cabbage family (see here for a long list of those vegetables), spinach, and lettuce.

Bleach treatment is easy! Your first step is to collect your materials. You will need a work space with bleach, water, measuring cups or spoons, dish soap, seeds appropriate for this treatment (the list above), a bowl, a strainer, and a mesh screen or newspaper.

PHOTO: Measuring cups full of supplies, including seeds, bleach, and water.

A few common household supplies make this an easy task.

Create a bleach solution of 80 percent water and 20 percent bleach. An easy way to do this is to combine 1 cup (8 oz.) of water with 1/4 cup (2 oz.) of bleach in a bowl. Add a drop of dish soap to the solution to break the surface tension, add the seeds, and allow them to sink. Mix the solution for one minute. Next, pour the contents of your bowl through a strainer, and rinse your seeds well in cold water for about 5 minutes. Finally, place your seeds on a screen or newspaper and allow them to dry before putting them in bags or containers for next spring.

Heat treatment, or the “seed jacuzzi” method

If you’re concerned about your seeds carrying a bacterial disease inside their coat, do for them what our bodies do for us when we are sick: heat them up! Bacteria don’t respond well to higher temperatures, which is why you develop a fever when you become ill. Since seeds can’t get fevers, we put them in a seed jacuzzi.

For this treatment, you will need water, a warming plate, thermometer, nylon bags (I use coffee filters instead), a glass container, and a screen or newspaper.

PHOTO: Tomato seeds, wrapped in a coffee filter and rubber-banded, are soaking in a glass of water.

Allowing seeds to pre-warm will prevent the embryos from being shocked by the heat. If you don’t pre-warm your seeds, fewer seeds will survive the treatment.

First, place your seeds in a bag or filter that will allow water to flow through. Next, pre-warm the seeds by placing the bag in a glass container of 100-degree-Fahrenheit water for 10 minutes. Make sure the temperature stays within a few degrees of this range.

Next, place the seeds in water heated to between 118 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the chart below to identify the proper temperature for your seeds and maintain this temperature within a few degrees for the time listed on the chart.

 

Chart of Seed Treatment

Chart of Seed Treatment via Ohio State Univeristy Extension Program


PHOTO: Pumpkin seeds sprouting on a dampened paper towel.

Healthy, sprouting seeds will be back before you know it!

Finally, place the bag of seeds in cool water for 5 minutes before putting them on newspaper or a screen to dry.

Whether you take the seeds to the pool (bleach treatment) or the jacuzzi (heat treatment), treating your seeds to prevent disease is very important. When spring returns, you’ll be very happy that you did.

Mark your calendars for our annual Seed Swap on Sunday, February 23, 2014.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Bulbs for the Holidays

Tom Weaver —  December 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

A number of tropical and semitropical bulbs can be used indoors to brighten up the winter months. Long-lasting blooms of amaryllis, Star-of-Bethlehem, and cyclamen are welcome additions to winter white.

PHOTO: A group planting of amaryllis, surrounded by ferns and English ivy.

Hippeastrum ‘Amalfi’ in the Semitropical Greenhouse

Amaryllis

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) are probably the best-known bulb grown for forcing indoors in the winter months. In recent years, plant breeders have introduced dozens of new varieties ranging in size from small miniatures no bigger than 4 inches across to giant doubles that can reach 8 inches in size, with dozens of frilly petals. Most commonly found are the large, red cultivars such as ‘Red Lion’, but for a unique holiday plant, look for some of the less-common varieties such as ‘Amalfi’ (a smaller pink variety), ‘Zombie’ (a double-flowered salmon-and-white variety), or the unusual purple-and-green Hippeastrum papilio.

Amaryllis are easy to care for, requiring bright light and not very much water. They do not like to be overly moist, and perform best if allowed to dry slightly between waterings. Cooler rooms prolong flowering, so make sure not to place it next to a heating vent. After they are done blooming, plants can be kept alive until summer, when they’re best placed outdoors to receive ample sunshine. When you return them indoors in the fall, stop watering, and allow the foliage to dry out and turn yellow. The plants will remain dormant for anywhere from one to three months. During this time, they require very little water (water approximately once a month). When you see new growth starting again, move the bulbs to a sunny location, and start the process all over again. As they age, amaryllis bulbs will get larger and larger, sometimes splitting into multiple bulbs. When this happens, they can be divided and potted up separately.

PHOTO: Closeup of Hippeastrum papilio bloom.

Hippeastrum papilio by Jerry Richardson from Warsaw, Indiana [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Star-of-Bethlehem

Another beautiful—but less common—plant that provides winter cheer is Ornithogalum ‘Bethlehem’or Star-Of-Bethlehem. These bulbs produce a 1- to 1½-foot-tall spike loaded with clean, white, star-shaped blooms. They grow best in a bright, cool location—the same type of environment an amaryllis prefers. Special care must be taken to not over water these, as they dislike having wet feet. In addition to the classic white flowers, a newer species, Ornithogalum dubium, has become available recently, with flowers ranging from buttery yellow to neon orange.

PHOTO: The white, lily-like blooms of Star-of-Bethlehem.

Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum ‘Bethlehem’)

PHOTO: Florist cyclamen in the Semitropical Greenhouse.

Florist cyclamen in the Semitropical Greenhouse

Cyclamen

Florists’ cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum cultivars, are related to hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen coum and C. hederifolium), but are not hardy in northern climates. They’re also generally much larger plants, suitable for using as a living centerpiece, or tucked into a gift basket for the holidays. Plants range in size from minis that are 3-6 inches tall, up to full-sized plants that can be nearly a foot tall when in bloom. The flowers come in many shades of reds, pinks, and purples, and in white. There are many beautiful bicolors and even some plants with exotic, frilly petals. In addition to beautiful flowers, cyclamen also feature some of the most intricately pattered leaves of any houseplant. You can get plants that are all silver, silver with green veins, green with silver veins, and many other unique patterns. 

Cyclamen prefer to be grown in a cool room and kept slightly moist. They never want to be sitting in a tray of water, and they never want to be completely dry. If your plant does start to wilt, give it a drink of water, and it will perk back up in just a few hours. Like the two previously mentioned bulbs, your cyclamen probably will go dormant in the summer. If that’s the case, just cut back on the watering until new growth starts again in the fall.

Cyclamen flower buds

Cyclamen flower buds

When picking a cyclamen, try to pick one with as many buds as possible. Each plant is capable of producing dozens, sometimes nearly 100, blooms that open slowly over the course of the entire season, giving you several months of blooms. Because the buds are produced all at once, it is important to pick one with as many buds as possible; this way, you know that you’re going to maximize your bloom time.

All three of these plants are currently on display in Wonderland Express and the Semitropical Greenhouse.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org