Holiday Cactus (Christmas | Thanksgiving | Easter)

When ‘Christmas cactus’ was suggested as the plant for this newsletter, I thought, “I‘ve got this!” I already grow and am familiar with both the Christmas cactus and the Thanksgiving cactus so I felt comfortable with the topic. I am aware of the third type, the Easter cactus, but have never grown one. Even with the logic of the different blooming seasons coinciding with the name of the holiday cacti it was interesting to find that there are other ways to tell them apart too! All of the holiday cacti originate from the tropics of South America, where they can be found naturally growing on trees. Given this, they all share another common name – ‘jungle cacti.’

Most of them are epiphytic, growing high in trees, and have no spines. They have flat, jointed leaves that grow in chains one to two feet long. The flowers range in color from white through rose, red, lavender, and purple.

When purchasing a new cactus, go by the botanical name instead of the common one. Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera xbuckleyi. A Thanksgiving cactus is Schlumbergera truncate and an Easter cactus, also known as a spring cactus, is Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri or Hatiora gaetneri.

Of course the easiest way to determine the species is the blooming season. Easter cacti bloom in spring, starting to reveal flower buds in February and flowering from March through May. Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti bloom in late fall or winter, with Thanksgiving varieties typically blooming a month earlier than the Christmas ones.

Besides varying bloom seasons, another way to separate the holiday cacti is by studying the edges of their leaf segments. The Christmas cacti have smooth, round edges and Thanksgiving cacti have pointy, jagged ones; Easter cacti are known for the bristles that can be found on the edges of their leaf segments. The flowers of the spring variety also seem to be more star-shaped in their form, but have the radiant shades of colors typically found in all three species: reds, pinks and purples, with some cultivars showcasing a pure white flower.

Each holiday species typically has the same growing conditions: shorter days (eight hours) and cold nights (55°F) for flowering . One thing to consider, especially with the Easter cacti, is how much water they need. Easter species seem to be especially sensitive to over-watering. They all need filtered to bright light and organic soil with good drainage. Keep the plants evenly moist while they are actively growing, and drench and let dry during their resting period. If the soil gets too dry, the end joints drop off; if it gets too wet, the plant will rot.

Enjoy trying all three – I know I plan to add Easter cactus to my household!

Submitted by Tracy L. Livingston

 

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What’s Blooming at My House – ‘Blue Bahama’ Passion Flower

Exotic passion flowers look as though they would be tropical plants, but they can actually be grown almost anywhere, including much milder areas. You may even find these delicate vines growing along the side of the road. In fact, some passion flowers species are becoming invasive in warmer climates.

The genus Passiflora contains over 400 species, so the common name Passion Flower can be a bit confusing.

To muddle matters further, most are vines, but some are shrubs, annuals, perennials and even trees and some also produce edible fruits. What they all share are exotic flowers that only remain open for about one day.Passion 2

Submitted by Tracy L. Livingston

 

The Power of Seeds | How to Grow Broccoli Sprouts

We all know how wonderful micro greens are for our health and how they were all the rage in the culinary world the past few years. Some of us grew micro greens and others bought them at the store. There have been fewer micro greens in stores and more sprouts in their place.

Yes I said sprouts! They have made a comeback – they are off the side-lines and can be found in most produce sections. This time around broccoli sprouts are the most popular as they have incredible health benefits. Before I share how great they are with you I want to give you a little bad and some good news. The bad news is broccoli sprouts do not taste like broccoli and the good news is that broccoli sprouts do not taste like broccoli.

All kidding aside, broccoli sprouts are easy to grow and just 3 ounces of sprouts have 10-100 times more sulforaphane than mature broccoli. Sulforaphane is an anti-cancer compound found in cruciferous vegetables that helps to fight against cancer. Broccoli sprouts are rich in vitamins K, C, B6, E, and folate, dietary fiber phosphorus, potassium, and mag-nesium. They also help the heart, respiratory, immune systems and aid in digestion.

Although they are good for most of us, no more than 2 cups a day is recommended. I caution anyone that is not supposed to have cruciferous vegetables to stay away from broccoli sprouts and always consult your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

All sprouts are quick and easy to grow and require minimal equipment and time.
If you want to test the waters and do not want to invest in a bag of seeds, Montana Harvest has organic broccoli seeds in their bulk spice section for a small amount of money. There is a lot more information on the internet about growing and buying all different types of sprouting seeds. I put sprouts on my omelets with some greens, in my salads, in smoothies and my favorite is in soups. I even feed them to my dogs. If you decide to give growing sprouts a try send us some pictures and let us know what you think at ymastergardener@gmail.com.

Here are a few links for purchasing sprouts online. https://sproutpeople.org/seeds/brassica-sprouts/ Kitazawa carries a lot of Asian seeds that can also be used for sprouting. http://www.kitazawaseed.com/

Submitted by Donna Canino

Nigella

Among the interesting flowers that are easy to grow from seed are the intricate and dainty nigella, or Love-in- a-Mist. Grown in Elizabethan cottage gardens and popular for centuries, they are not the fan favorite in nurseries and garden centers these days since they are not great transplant candidates. They are so easy to grow from seed that it is truly a shame if you never try them for medium-height, season- long delight in any sunny location.

To create a display from mid -spring to late summer, sow successive plantings from early spring to early summer. Plant when weather ranges between 65-70 most of the day in full sun with a little space for each plant to reach out. They don’t require much but decent drainage for soil, so water when dry and apply a little fertilizer in July and August. Watch for the deeply cut first leaves to break through in about 10 days and then prepare to enjoy the show. Multiple branches on 1-2’ plants will produce blooms rad intricate stamens and pistols. The leaves are finely divided and lend an airy quality to the middle of edge beds and cottage gardens.

The show doesn’t stop with the bloom – the seed pod is just as delightful with a balloon-like case tipped with spikes and surrounded by the net-like collar. These can be dried for quaint little arrangements or left to self-seed for next year.

Submitted by Corinna Sinclair

 

GROWING HOLLYHOCKS

Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) – Zones 3 to 9. These old- fashioned favorites unfurl richly colored single or double flowers on lanky stems that can reach 9 feet in height. They can tower above a garden, adding a lovely vertical element to your yard.

Hollyhock is a biennial, which means it grows foliage on short stems its first year but doesn’t flower until the following year. Growing hollyhocks in the garden is the goal of many gardeners who remember these impressive flowers from their youth. It is a favorite ‘cottage garden’ choice in my yard. 

Did you know, based on folklore, that hollyhocks werehollyhock 1 planted near outhouses so ladies wouldn’t have to broach the unmentionable subject of outhouses in a Victorian household? They could simply look for the hollyhocks themselves.

Hollyhocks need full sun and moist, rich, well-drained soil. The mistake many novice hollyhock growers make is to plant this flower in soil that is too dry. If you are planting seeds, sow the seeds outside about a week before last frost. If you are planting seedlings, wait about two to three weeks after last frost. Hollyhock seeds only need to be planted right below the soil, no more than 1/4- inch deep. Hollyhock plants should be about 2 feet apart to grow well. You can also plant bare root hollyhocks. 

Hollyhocks are a short lived perennial. This means that most varieties will only live two to three years. Their lifespan can be extended some by removing growing hollyhock flowers as soon as they fade. By living in a non-tropical region, cutting them
back to the ground and mulching them will also help.

The one benefit that comes from growing hollyhock flowers is that they easily reseed themselves. While they may be short-lived, in their proper growing conditions they will continually grow more, which will keep the hollyhock flowers consistent in years to come.

Few diseases affect hollyhocks; however, hollyhock rust is a problem. Rust is a common and serious disease that is found in hollyhock gardens and is spread by mallow, which is a weed that acts as a disease reservoir. The rust disease is a fungus that spreads by rain droplets splashing on leaves and through air transfer. If not treated, the disease intensifies through summer and will eventually kill the plant. Rust will overwinter and infect the crowns of sprouting plants in spring.

The rust disease in hollyhocks appears as rust-colored bumps on the underside of the leaves and stems of the plant. The disease starts as small rust flecks and grows into raised bumps or pustules that will spread to all parts of the plant greens. An infected plant will appear limp and ragged. Does hollyhock rust spread to other plants? Yes, it does! It only spreads to other members of the Alcea family, so most of your other garden plants are safe.

There are a few pests that affect hollyhocks: hollyhock pest 1The Hollyhock weevil (Apion longirostre) is one of them. The hollyhock weevil is commonly responsible for damaged foliage and thinned-out stands of hollyhock. Another is the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) hollyhock pest 2which feed on hollyhock leaves as adults, causing the foliage to turn brown from the top of the plant down. The Hollyhock Sawfly larvae (Neoptilia malvacearum) feed extensively on leaves, eventually skeletonizing hollyhock foliage. Spider mites such as the Two-Spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) feed on hollyhocks. Spider mite feeding damage appears as stippling or flecking on leaves, leaf yellowing and premature leaf drop. Mites are small, barely visible to the naked eye, and they prefer hot, dry conditions; the presence of fine webbing indicates a severe infestation.

Some additional possible pests: multiple species of thrips including gladiolius thrips can affect hollyhocks. These small, flying insects pierce flowers, buds, leaves and stems, causing the appearance of silvery, necrotic lines and sometimes dieback. Avoid the use of broad-spectrum insecticides that could harm natural thrips predators. Leafhoppers and aphids may also occasionally act as hollyhock pests. Aphids are soft-bodied insects that tend to feed on vulnerable new growth. There are plenty of resources available to learn more about the various pests that can affect hollyhocks. I would encourage you to further your research if you find you are having issues with your hollyhocks!

If anyone would like some seeds I have some single-flower black, white, red and Crème de Cassis seeds I’d love to share with fellow gardeners. I am looking for single-flower variety in a bright yellow, if anyone has them growing in their yards! I can leave some at Amy’s office if there is an interest.

Resources and further reading: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/hollyhock/tips-on-hollyhocksgrowing-hollyhocks-successfully.htm
http://thevermontgardener.blogspot.com/?spref=fb
https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/hollyhock/tips-on-hollyhocks-growing-hollyhocks-successfully.htm
http://birdsandblooms.com/gardening/top-10-lists-for-gardeners/top-10-old-fashioned-flowers/?8
http://www.gardenguides.com/68352-hollyhock-diseases.html
https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/hollyhock/controlling-hollyhockweevils.htm
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p://homeguides.sfgate.com/hollyhock-pests-22391.html

Submitted by Tracy Livingston

GRAPES IN MONTANA ?

When I think of grapes and vineyards, I think of California, France or the Mediterranean. I don’t really imagine grapes growing in our climate. Yet over 30 years ago we planted two grape vines near the entrance to my garden and they are still going strong all these years later!

Every year the stick-like canes sprout beautiful green grape leaves, then little grape buds, and in early to mid-August beautiful dark blue-black grapes. I know the grapes are ready to harvest when the wasps and robins begin hanging around the ripening grapes. I do little to tend the vines except trim them back some after the leaves have fallen in the fall and give them some of my home-made fertilizer in the spring.

The variety we planted is called “Valiant.” It is a cross between native and concord grapes. It was originally bred in South Dakota but the same wild grapes in this cross also grow here in Montana. This variety may still be available from a landscape contractor. I’m not sure you would be able to find it in a retail store. I suspect having the wild genes in these plants helps them survive our harsh conditions, resist diseases, and produce fruit in our short growing season. Perhaps there are other such crosses out there now if you cannot find “Valiant.”Grapes 2017

My grapes are not eating grapes. They are not sweet enough. I make grape juice from them every year. I think they would make a fine wine but I have not tried that. When they are ready, I harvest enough to make a few quarts of juice, then leave plenty of fruit for the birds and wasps (though for a few days I have to use the back entrance to my garden to avoid the wasps!).

I hope others will try grape vines in their gardens and will get the same pleasure and good juice from them that I have enjoyed all these many years!

 

Submitted by Ann Guthals