27 February 2018

Propagation by seed....making more and more plants

     Though with a most innocuous bloom, the sea grape plant itself is beautiful...in an earlier post I described it as sculptural, which it is.
      It's also an excellent plant for conservation purposes with a huge root system.  In most places along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and on both of the Corn Islands, there are laws against its removal.  We have several large plants which add interest and beauty to our landscape - and the seeds from our plants have provided young plants for us to use and eventually to sell.
     Initially we sowed the seeds in a minimally protected area - a 'tent' made of a discarded shrimp net - and the germination rate was high, producing hundreds of seedlings. 

     After nearly two seasons in their tent, the seedlings were dug and planted, three to a bag.  In most of Nicaragua plastic bags are used instead of plastic pots.
     The young plants spent a season in their bags in a protected space as shown below and then the bags of plants were placed in the nursery, fully exposed to the weather in which they'll spend the rest of their hopefully very long lives.

     The picture above shows only a small number of the baby plants we bagged.  

23 February 2018

Propagation by tip cutting...another way to increase our plant nursery stock

     At False Bluff we're working with several methods of propagating plants, one of which involves what's known as 'tip cuttings.'  Here's the result of an experiment with tip cuttings in Virginia.  
     A tip cutting can be a piece of a plant's stem or of its root.  My experiment was done using the tips of stems on an oleander plant.  Most cuttings are stem pieces; and after the stem is cut to the desired length, all but a few of the leaves are removed and often the very tip of the stem piece as well (routine removal of the tip encourages early branching of a new plant). 
     Tip cuttings are mere 'pinchings' from the ends of stems so that, ideally, when cuttings are taken, the tips of each cutting can provide an additional opportunity for a new plant.  In other words, you cut a piece of stem  say 7" long.  You remove all but a few of the leaves from the piece of stem closest to where the stem was attached to the plant; and then you pinch out the very tip of the stem.  
     The bared end of that piece of stem, the piece with no leaves, is then stuck into soil, kept sheltered, and watered; and eventually should form its own roots, thus becoming a new plant (often before sticking the cutting into soil the bare end is treated with a rooting hormone).  
     In the past we've discarded both the leaves we strip from the stem and the tip of the stem we've pinched out.  Often that tip has flower buds and those are removed because a rootless piece of stem will spend its energy on getting the flowers open rather than on forming roots.  
     If I wanted stem cuttings for their flowers, I'd cut the damned things and stick them in vases in the living room.  What I'm doing here, on the other hand, is all about facilitating the making of new plants.  
     Using both the longer stem cutting and the formerly-trash tip of that stem as a second cutting gives us twice as many opportunities at propagation: the piece I cut on purpose and the piece I used to throw away.
     In this example I never actually cut anything but literally pinched off the final 2" or 3" of tender growth from ends of some branches of an oleander plant with a deep pink double blossom.    
     After removing a flower-bud sprout from each of them (another pinch), I rinsed and then stuck the pinchings, plant end down, in a small clear glass jar with just enough water to cover the ends...and put the jar in a north facing windowsill and waited.
     And waited.
     And waited.
     And then I waited some more.
     Every few days I would empty the water, rinse the ends of the pinchings, and put enough fresh water into the jar to cover the ends again.  There's a reason, related to oxygen's beneficial effect on root formation, for changing the water rather than simply replacing what evaporation takes.  
     I hadn't made a note of when these went into water but after what seemed like a long time I noticed the beginnings of roots, small enough to not to even be visible in the first picture.

     And then one day there were enough roots to remove these babies from their water world and plant them in very friable soil.  All five pinchings had rooted; the two that had the least root system shared a pot.



     The cutting with the least root system didn't survive and a second plant succumbed to cat intrusion.  The remaining three cuttings aren't cuttings anymore but tiny plants with a measurable amount of new growth.

18 February 2018

I'm stuck with a bucket of water....

     ...and a pile of sand while everybody else is swimming. 
     The Caribbean's behind me with really high waves today and nobody'll give me a surf board.

16 February 2018

14 February 2018

Slow but sure - our plant nursery

     I was really surprised that despite the lush greenness of False Bluff the things I wanted to grow....wouldn't.
     When I first began my project here I envisioned just which blooming plants would go where and how their flowers would enhance the landscape.  After all this is the tropics; and the greenery that surrounded us was overwhelming even though almost none of it was pretty.  
     At the start, we removed most of the scrub brush, leaving sea grapes and coconut palms; and then immediately added hundreds more coconut trees.  Some of these young trees were planted in as random and natural a manner as possible; but a lot of the others were planted in locations that would outline or accent future uses, or in places that would direct foot traffic.
     And after the coconut trees I began to plant things that would bloom, things like ylang ylang trees with their showy and sweet smelling blossoms (from which, it is said, Chanel #5 was born); bougainvillea; hibiscus; a local bright-yellow-flowered shrub that bloomed apparently non-stop....at least until I planted it close to the beach.  
     None of these things I planted survived where I wanted them, where I had envisioned them blooming.  WTF!  The tropics are known for colorful hibiscus and clouds of bright bougainvillea.  So why wouldn't these things grow where I put them?  
     What I hadn't taken into consideration - what I was too stupid to even think about - was the salt in the air, blown in on that lovely and constant sea breeze.  Most of you who have spent a day at the beach remember feeling a bit sticky at the end of the day?  That stickiness is a coating of salt that's blown your way on a breeze.  
     And at False Bluff there is a constant sea breeze bringing salt to coat everybody and everything and depositing eons of salt in the soil.  
     Result?  Not a nurturing environment for plants.  
     What followed almost immediately was the decision to open a plant nursery that specializes in landscape ornamentals that would thrive in our environment. It turned out there are lists of plants that grow in places like ours, rated from "highly" to "moderate" on the salt tolerance scale.  
     So the plant nursery was born as I familiarized myself with what was available, choosing plants I'd never dealt with, selecting not only for salt tolerance but for good looks: optics ruled the decision making.  Turns out there are some stunning things available and some old familiar faces I'd not known were tolerant of salt spray.  
     A place close enough to the sea to test the veracity of the salt tolerant plant lists was cleared in anticipation of making space for the mother plants, plants that would provide offspring for us to use in our own landscaping and also for sale to other frustrated coastal gardeners.  

       Almost immediately we learned we were going to have to propagate most of our own mother plants because very little of what we wanted in the nursery is available commercially anywhere in Nicaragua.  So things are going a bit slower than they might have gone in the USA where all I would have had to do was order 100 of this or 200 of that.  
        In our case, we beg or buy a small plant or a cutting to root; and wait until it's big and healthy enough to provide cuttings or seeds for further propagation...
     Once the initial space was cleared, weed-free rows, with planned walkways between them, were marked using short pieces of 1" PVC pipe.  As mentioned in a couple of earlier posts here, we don't use wood to mark the rows anymore because termites eat the damned things almost as fast as we put them in the ground.  

     The space and number of plant rows have doubled from this beginning as our inventory has increased.

09 February 2018

Jacinta, a treasure...

     A woman for all seasons, Jacinta is many things.  Among her most obvious qualities, she is ...   
a loving and supportive wife,

a nurturing and patient mother,

and a truly gifted gardener

05 February 2018

Keeping track of the changing scenery

     I've taken this shot each year from pretty much the same location.  Here are a few of the pictures showing some pretty dramatic changes:





Nearly current...