Growing from saved seeds doesn’t always work out

red zinnia flower

The red zinnia flower that became the apple of my eye.

Some months ago, I went on a little flower-buying binge. One of the plants that had caught my eye was the zinnia. If you recall, I once grew that flowering plant years ago, and it had fascinated me because the composite flower was so visually interesting. Like nature, it “went out of season” with me after a while, so when I saw it at the nursery, I decided to buy a couple of plants – one red and one yellow, because the colours were so vibrant.

Don't these red zinnias look gorgeous in a cluster?

Don’t these red zinnias look gorgeous in a cluster?

When I got home and spent more time with the plants, it wasn’t long before I fell head over heels in love with the red version of the plant. The way the red contrasted with the yellow centre was just too gorgeous. The yellow was pretty, but the entire flower was yellow – and it seemed to attract more pests than the red one (think of yellow sticky insect traps…). I was determined to keep growing red zinnias, so when the first flower had passed its prime, I left it to form seeds.

zinnia seedlings growing in cups

A little forest of zinnia seedlings

I harvested the seeds when the flower head started drying up, and was delighted to get some fully formed, hard brown seeds. I planted them, and then because I hate to waste anything, I threw in the less matured seeds to mulch the ones I had sown. Guess what? A lot of them also germinated! I had a little forest of seedlings, and I planted them out.

Second generation zinnia flower - looks very much like the parent

Second generation zinnia flower – looks very much like the parent

That’s when things got “interesting”. Some of the plants were a bit weedy – the stems were long and curly, like they were starved for light (which they weren’t) – and they just didn’t grow into strong plants. Those that did grow looked nice and strong like the parent plant. Then they formed buds, and things again got interesting…

slightly malformed zinnia flower

The flower on this plant didn’t form properly – the cluster of yellow flowers is smaller and not arranged in a ring, like the parent’s

I call this the pom-pom zinnia flower - it has way too many outer petals, and no disc flowers in the centre!

I call this the pom-pom zinnia flower – it has way too many outer petals, and no disc flowers in the centre!

mutant zinnia flower

There’s only one thing to call this – a mutant zinnia flower! It had no outer petals, and didn’t form proper disc flowers in the centre. How bizarre!

Lessons learned from this experience – use the best seeds and be firm in discarding the rest. Although the second generation of seeds should be acclimatised to our garden, the quality of plant cannot be guaranteed. It was an interesting experiment, though!

© 2019 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


Share

Heat-loving bougainvillea

Dark pink bougainvillea - what I consider the more common colour

Dark pink bougainvillea – what I consider the more common colour

The heat is on, and our bougainvillea plants are loving it! Every other plant seems to be affected by the hot, dry weather – the lawn is turning brown in bigger and bigger patches, and flowering and fruiting plants are wilting by lunchtime. If we forget to water them for at least two days, there will be fatalities.

I normally despise our bougainvillea plants because I get scratched and poked by their thorny stems whenever I prune them. It doesn’t matter how thick the gloves are or how gingerly I handle the stems – the plants always get their revenge on me. However, the amount of colour that they provide in this weather is just gorgeous!

Sweet pink-and-white bi-coloured bougainvillea flowers

Sweet pink-and-white bi-coloured bougainvillea flowers

My dad was the one who chose the plants. I have to admit that he had a good eye for this selection of colours! Besides the standard purply-pink, there are a couple of shades of orange, and the lovely bi-coloured pale pink and white variety. I have no idea what their names are; we just go by colour. I suspect a couple of them were given as cuttings.

Pale peach bougainvillea flowers - not the most appealing colours to me, but certainly prolific when in bloom!

Pale peach bougainvillea flowers – not the most appealing colours to me, but certainly prolific when in bloom!

For years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get the plants to grow in that nice compact shape, but have been thwarted by them because they seem to burst into bloom only when there’s a long gangly stem. I know that you’re supposed to prune the stem back after the flowers are done, but each time I’ve tried, they refused to to flower, and remain leafy only until they had grown nice long stems…

Dark orange, with a tinge of pink bougainvillea flowers - I quite like this colour!

Dark orange, with a tinge of pink bougainvillea flowers – I quite like this colour!

Well, we’ve been through a few phases where for one reason or another, some of the plants have been pruned right back to a single, main stem, and I know from this experience that the plants are hardy and will start growing new stems even from a single, bare woody main stem. So I’ve become more adventurous. We recently planted on a couple of bougainvillea plants that had become pot-bound, and once settling them into bigger, roomier pots, I gave each plant a massive prune, just keeping short stems. It took more, regular maintenance than I’m used to, but one of the plants finally started taking the “bonsai” look. Thanks to the weather, we’ve got the beginnings of that compact flowering look I’ve been yearning after. The other re-potted plant – a purply-pink one -  is stubbornly sticking to the “I’m only going to burst into bloom when I have long stems” attitude. We’ll see if we can come to a compromise or not…

© 2019 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.




Share

A multitude of mulberries!

We've never had this many mulberries growing at a time!

We’ve never had this many mulberries growing at a time!

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked at the mulberry plant this week. It’s one of those plants that doesn’t require lots of attention, apart from regular pruning.  As a matter of fact, this plant started as a cutting in a pot, that sneakily took root through a crack in the cement paving it was on. It has been in this location for more than half a year and was pruned about a month ago when we were clearing the garden before Christmas. Prior to this, it bore fruits in small, scattered clumps like our mulberry plants normally do. So, I did a double-take and had to take a closer squint at the branches when I saw the incredible number of mulberries lining the branches!

What you see is just part of the branch - imagine a 2-metre long branch lined with clumps and clumps of mulberries!

What you see is just part of the branch – imagine a 2-metre long branch lined with clumps and clumps of mulberries!

I don’t know what we did to get this result, but I’ve been waiting for years to see our mulberry plants have this kind of yield! There was a video I saw years ago of someone’s mulberry tree practically dripping with fruits. I figured he had a different variety, or perhaps that our climate wasn’t suitable for mulberries, and had resigned myself to getting small harvests of a couple of handfuls (if we were lucky) at a time. I know that the birds will be competing with us for the fruits, but if we could actually get majority of the fruits, we would be able to make a mulberry pie! Or try another dessert that Mike, one of my old readers, once shared with me involving mulberries, other fruit and coconut cream. Yum! Maybe we’ll net up the plant to keep the birds away this one time…

© 2019 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


Share

Using coco chips in the garden

Coconut chips used as a layer of mulch will suppress weeds and keep the soil below moist.

Coconut chips used as a layer of mulch will suppress weeds and keep the soil below moist.

Our regular year-end rainy season seems to have ended, and the hot, dry period is about to hit us. It will get more pronounced in the next couple of months when the winds carry less and less moisture, and I’m already getting worried because I see how quickly the potted plants are drying out.

It’s not just solar heat that will have this effect; a combination of wind and warm air will extract moisture most effectively. So this is when I usually start turning my attention to things like self-watering pots and heavy mulching. Taking measures like these means I don’t have to be overly anxious if I’ve forgotten to water the plants. It also means that we save water as well.

Lately I’ve begun experimenting with coconut chips. These pieces of coconut husk act as organic sponges. My buddy Alexius uses them for his garden paths. Not only do they suppress weeds, they soak up and hold moisture when it rains, and over time will decompose and provide nutrients to the plants. I’ve been mixing them into the soil of my potted plants to help with water retention, and am still working out the ratio for that. Recently, when I transplanted some young plants into a mixed planting in a large pot, I pushed in a large piece of coconut chip below each plant. I figured the chips would help to keep the roots hydrated, as well as feed the plants as they composted over time. Well, from the way the plants are growing now, I’d say it has worked!

Healthy young plants that were transplanted with a big piece of coco chip below the roots to act as a "sponge".

Healthy young plants that were transplanted with a big piece of coco chip below the roots to act as a “sponge”.

Another way I use the coco chips is putting a layer at the bottom of potted plants to act as a barrier to keep the soil from escaping from the bottom of the pots. They also keep the moisture in, but I’ve found that this attracts ants to start nesting in the pots. I instinctively dislike seeing ants on my plants because they usually signify a pest problem, but I know that they also serve a purpose in the garden. However, the pest issue overshadows all else for me.

The final way I use the coco chips is as a layer of mulch. The only problem with this is that the chips are lightweight when dry, and will be blown away by wind, or will float to one side until they absorb water. So, you have to lay a decently thick layer and expect to lose some of it. My humble opinion is that they work best when in the soil.

© 2018 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


Share