Archives For Karen Z.

Budding and flowering trees and shrubs—redbud, plum, spirea, almond—are among the great joys of spring. Under the calm and creative eye of Field & Florist’s Heidi Joynt, we learned to turn those branches into lovely, living wreaths in a perfectly timed class at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Heidi Joynt demonstrated how to layer in curly willow cuttings and delicate flowering branches like bridal veil and bridal wreath spirea.

Spring blooming wreaths included “delicate” branches like those shown here.

A finished wreath incorporates many of the more delicate flowering shrubs with a central focal point of redbud and plum branches.

The finished wreath is an exuberant combination of the more delicate flowering shrubs with a dramatic central focal point of redbud and plum branches.

Most Chicago-area yards have a flowering shrub or tree, much admired when it bursts into bloom in spring. While some intrepid gardeners know to cut early branches to force bloom indoors, Joynt takes the idea in a different direction—in a circle, with living branches forming a perfect-for-the-front-door wreath.

Imagine walking out into your yard, pruning a cluster of branch tips—plus a large branch or two—then starting to fill in an 8- to 12-inch grapevine or curly willow wreath (purchased or handmade). That’s how surprisingly simple the process is.

As everyone clipped and pondered and designed, Joynt offered helpful wreath-making and wreath-tending tips:

  • Larger branches of redbud, crabapple, forsythia, double almond, or plum can be strategically wired onto the wreath to create a focal point. 
  • Add delicate curly willow or birch catkins at the center and the outer edges of your wreath. Bouncing and waving in the breeze, they add movement and interest to your design.
  • Hung on your front door, the living wreath can be spritzed with water once or twice a day to keep flowers fresh. 
  • As flowers drop off or brown, pull the branches out of your wreath and replace them with the next blooming items in your yard. Fresh flowers like tulips and roses can also be inserted by placing them in flower tubes (available at florists and craft shops) and tucking them into the wreath. 
  • Yes, silk flowers are an option. Joynt recommends www.shopterrain.com for extremely realistic flowering branches. 

Field & Florist’s Spring Arrangements from Rabbit Hole Magazine on Vimeo.

Classmates begin framing their wreaths with pussy willow tips.

Joynt’s next class, Spring Centerpiece Workshop, is just before Mother’s Day, on Thursday, May 5—create the perfect gift for mom. Can’t make it? Try Floral Techniques on June 21.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Do-It-Yourself Seed Balls

Karen Z. —  April 10, 2016 — 2 Comments

Spring is seed season—and a good time to think about gifting seeds to gardeners, friends, and green-thumbed moms (think Mother’s Day, May 8).

Musing about how to share some of the seeds that she gathered at February’s Seed Swap, horticulturist Nancy Clifton got interested in the guerrilla gardening-inspired idea of “seed balls” (or seed bombs, as they’re sometimes called). While the guerrilla gardening movement leans toward stealth seeding, Nancy thinks seed balls make an ideal gift item—they’re easy to make, easy to “plant,” and an easy way to teach kids about germination.

PHOTO: Seed balls made with different recipes.

Clay powder gives seed balls a reddish color and even texture; using clay chips makes a slightly chunkier, greenish seed ball. Both work equally well.

Here’s the easy seed ball recipe:

  • 1 cup powdered clay or potter’s clay (can be purchased online)
  • ½ cup dried compost (the finer, the better—Nancy used a pre-bagged compost mix)
  • 2 tablespoons desired seeds (see seed choice section below)
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper (to deter critters from eating the sprouts)
  • Water

Mix the dry ingredients; then add ½ cup water. Stir, then begin to judge the consistency. Wearing gardening or plastic gloves, roll a teaspoon-sized ball in your hands (size can vary). Think “mud pie”—the ball should hold together when you squeeze it, without crumbling or dripping water.

Roll all of the mixture into balls; then let the balls dry on newspaper or waxed paper for two or three days. Don’t worry about smoothness—rustic-looking seed balls are as interesting as marble-smooth. The color will change to dark red/terra cotta as the balls dry. This recipe yields about 24 seed balls.

About Your Seed Choice

  • Less is more. You only want a few seeds to sprout from each seed ball. Too many seeds mean too many sprouts, resulting in too much competition for nutrients and water.
  • All sun. All shade. All herbs. All spring. Choose seeds with similar needs to maximize success in their container or garden spot. Nancy’s variations:
    • All summer annuals
    • All lettuces
    • All cool-season herbs
  • Use organic, non-treated seeds from your own garden or from trusted sources.
  • Choose native species for flowers and perennials that will grow successfully in our USDA Zone 5 region. Be responsible: do not use seeds from invasive species.

PHOTO: Nancy handles finished seed balls using plastic gloves.

Wear plastic or latex gloves when making seed balls. The mixture tends to be very sticky, and clay can dry out your hands very easily.

Seed balls can be set into a container of potting soil (sink it down just a bit into the soil), or placed, randomly or intentionally, on bare soil in the garden. A rainy day is the perfect day to “plant” seed balls—rain helps to break down the clay and compost, giving seeds a good dose of food and water to get started growing.

Throw one in your garden. Fill an empty space. Gift a brown- or green-thumbed friend. And happy spring, everyone!


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Attention, fellow seed swappers: it’s mid-March, and that means it’s time to pull out all those amazing seeds you got at Seed Swap (what a fun day!) and start growing transplants indoors.

My “aha!” moment at Seed Swap happened when I stopped by at horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg’s seed-starting table, and picked up a copy of her Seed Viability Chart. It’s not only a useful tool about the average “shelf life”—or viability—of veggie seeds, but also an eye-opening reminder to check the dates on seed packs before I start growing this spring. Some seeds last longer than others!

Click here to download a PDF of the chart. (Proper seed storage conditions are in a cool and dark place where temperature and moisture content will stay relatively stable.)

Ready to start sowing? We’ve got lots of good tips and info about how to start seeds on our blog and website:


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Alice the Amorphophallus—An Update on Titan Arum Fruit

Why Alice's Berries Vary

Karen Z. —  March 3, 2016 — Leave a comment

Thousands of visitors to the Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden have been delighted to see a special guest star at the Tropical Greenhouse: Alice the Amorphophallus is on display, in full and glorious fruit! 

Visitors are asking: why are some of the berries on the titan arum (or corpse flower) skinny and small, while others are big and plump?

Dr. Pat Herendeen and “Titan Tim” Pollak plucked a few of each in mid-February, X-rayed them, and performed a bit of berry surgery to get the answer.

PHOTO: An x-ray view of titan arum fruit pollinated by Spike (Chicago Botanic Garden).

An x-ray view of titan arum fruit pollinated by Spike (Chicago Botanic Garden, 2015).

PHOTO: An x-ray view of titan arum fruit pollinated by Stinky (Denver Botanic Gardens, 2015).

An x-ray view of titan arum fruit pollinated by Stinky (Denver Botanic Gardens, 2015).

PHOTO: Pat Herendeen examines titan arum seed under microscope; gloves protect his hands from oxalate crystals in the fruit.

Dr. Pat Herendeen examines titan arum seed under microscope; gloves protect his hands from oxalate crystals in the fruit.

X-rays showed that seeds had developed in the larger berries—those pollinated with pollen from Stinky, the titan arum that recently bloomed at the Denver Botanic Gardens. There were no signs of seeds in the smaller berries, which were pollinated by Spike, the Garden’s first titan arum. Dissection confirmed it; the large berries are ripening, while the smaller berries are sterile.

Spike and Stinky contributed all the pollen used for Alice’s pollination last September. About one-third of Alice’s female flowers received Spike’s pollen; about two-thirds received Stinky’s—and you can see the difference visually.

Garden scientists believe that Spike and Alice, who are siblings, are too closely related genetically to create healthy seeds, while Stinky, thought to be more distantly related, provided appropriate genetic material for proper reproduction.

You can see the difference on Alice’s infructescence (fruit stalk), too: the stalk is curving. As the chubby, seed-filled fruits from Stinky’s pollen continue to ripen and enlarge, the structure is bending over the small, non-viable fruits from Spike’s pollen. 

Each of the berries produced by Stinky’s pollen will make one or two seeds. It will take several more months for the fruits to ripen and turn deep red—a signal that seeds may finally be collected. 

PHOTO: One fruit resulting from Spike’s pollen is on the left; two fruits from Stinky’s pollen is in the center and on the right. The fruit in the center has been opened and the two seeds removed. The large seed on the right, though still unripened, reveals what the final titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) seed will look like.

One fruit resulting from Spike’s pollen is on the left; two fruits from Stinky’s pollen are in the center and on the right. The fruit in the center has been opened and the two seeds removed. The large seed on the right, though still unripened, reveals what the final titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) seed will look like.

What’s Next for Alice’s Seeds?

Because the titan arum’s natural habitat in Indonesia has degraded so drastically—estimates say 72 percent has been lost—scientific and academic institutions like the Chicago Botanic Garden have become safe havens in which titan arums can grow and multiply.

After Alice’s fully-ripened fruits are collected, the seeds will be extracted, cleaned, stored, and shared. Alice’s seeds will contribute to titan conservation through:

  • Seed sharing between gardens, universities, and other institutions.
  • Raising new plants here at the Garden to bolster our titan collection.
  • Researching DNA to increase diversity among titan plants.

 

Relive the excitement of Alice’s bloom! Our blogs and videos track Alice’s progress from bud to fruit.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Test your Orchid IQ—how do orchid roots work?

Roots Rock! 5 Things You Should Know About Orchid Roots

Karen Z. —  February 25, 2016 — Leave a comment

The first time you walk under a big, lush tangle of orchid roots at the Orchid Show can be quite disconcerting—what are those big white things dangling in the air, you wonder, and how do they work?

Let’s look at those roots from a different angle, so that the next time you walk under them, you’ll know more about what you’re seeing.

PHOTO: Epiphytic orchids.

Most orchids are epiphytes. An epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant (not in soil), but is not parasitic.

They’re Called Aerial Roots

Of the 27,000-plus species of orchids on the planet, about 70 percent are epiphytes—plants that grow on trees, with above-ground rather than in-ground roots. Known as aerial roots, they act as anchors and supports as they wrap around branches and trunks, stabilizing the plant as it grows. Roots are an orchid’s lifeline, absorbing water and nutrients from the air and from the leaf litter in the tree niche it inhabits.

Orchid Roots Are Adventitious

That is, an orchid’s roots can grow along the stem of the plant, not just out of the bottom of it. The advantage of being adventitious? Plants can be propagated easily. Many orchids grow baby plantlets, called keikis, that can be removed from the mother plant along with their own set of adventitious roots.

PHOTO: Phalaenopsis orchid with keiki (baby orchid offshoot).

The keiki growing at the top of this Phalaenopsis floral stem has grown large enough to be transplanted.

The White Stuff Is Velamen

An aerial root should look fleshy and green; the white coating that covers it is called the velamen. Thin and rather papery, but spongy and protective, it’s a one-way water barrier that allows moisture to soak in—and keeps it from oozing out.

PHOTO: Orchid root showing velamen layer.

Whitish velamen covers the orchid’s roots.

If the velamen appears dried or rotted, it should be stripped off up to where it’s healthy and white, leaving the wiry inner root to help stabilize the plant once it’s in the pot.

Roots Signal Plant Health

At the Orchid Show, you get to see lush, healthy roots close up. At home, your orchid’s roots will usually be contained in its pot. Roots growing out of and over the edge of a pot signal that it’s time for re-potting—which gives you the opportunity to examine your plant for overall root health. Plump, green roots look and are healthy; yellow, spotted, black, or dried out roots indicate that it’s time to re-think how you’re caring for your orchid.

PHOTO: Orchid repotting.

Learn more about repotting Phalaenopsis and other orchids in our blog.

Roots Can Rot

Overwatering is the number one threat to an orchid plant. Orchid roots rot easily if given too much water—with no switch to prevent roots from pulling in excess water, the plant can drown if left standing in a full saucer. That’s one reason why orchid pots typically have extra drainage holes.

To correctly water an orchid, remove the pot from its saucer to the sink. Run water gently but thoroughly through the plant for a minute or two. Then allow the plant to drain completely before returning it to its saucer; repeat weekly.

PHOTO: Oncidium Twinkle 'Red'

Oncidium Twinkle ‘Red’

Orchid roots are awesome! Come see for yourself at the Orchid Show, running through March 13, 2016.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org