Saturday, December 22, 2012

Seasons Greetings III: Indoor and Outdoor

Welcome back to the third of the holiday episodes of Lost In The Farmers Market. Today the topic shifts to a family of plants that is famous for it’s most known and festive member Euphorbia pulcherima which is more commonly known as the Poinsettia. I did not include the Poinsettia itself because it’s varied history deserves its own post. Its relatives deserve a great deal of credit, even if they are not as seasonally showy. Before I delve into the natures of those two fine members of the Euphorbia clan I would like to talk briefly on an important garden topic; planning for the future.

Planning, it’s an incredibly formal word for this informal affair we call gardening, and there is no wrong or right way to go about it. Some muse about their happenings and determine a general direction. While other gardeners keep exacting notes and refers to those to determine the goals of the next year. Most gardeners probably fall somewhere in between which is perfectly fine. We all have our own ways of planning for the next year but now is the time to start thinking, and considering. Not unlike last minute shopping you don’t want to rush the process or find that when the time comes you can’t get the materials you need the most.

For the average gardener equipped with some notes is should not be too hard to figure how much material you used in a given year.  But the first step to planning is considering how much of what was used in the last year. Having a rough estimate or even a hard number of how much of something you had can tell you what needs to change if anything. For instance in the case of liquid fertilizer, lets assume in the last year you used six 6.25 pound boxes of MiracleGro soluble fertilizer. From that you should be asking, why am I using this much? And of course what can I do to improve my soil so that much fertilizer is no longer necessary? Further more you may want to consider asking yourself if the plant varieties you are using even need it.

Just using the example you could sit back and figure if you paid $13.88 per box of fertilizer* at a total cost of $ 83.28. From the numbers as written to get a temporary gain in nutrient and a large use of water is this a good sustainable use of materials? Considering that for the same price you could get the following instead:

1.      4 bags of Black Hen poultry manure 20lbs each at 5.30 each for 21.20.
2.      3 bottles of Alaska Fish Fertilizer, 1 Quart each at 8.54 each for 25.62
3.      8 bags of premium topsoil at 0.75 cu each at 2.12 each for 19.96.

In the end the total would be 63.78, and the savings would cover fuel and buy more plants perhaps. The overall effect of monitoring your costs, and using the information to spend more wisely would mean that you would have to work less to produce the same amount of output if not more. The aforementioned information is the heart of the financial aspect of garden planning. I will cover the other aspects of planning in the following articles. But enough of the technicalities it’s time to talk about the last of the house plant gift ideas.

The euphorbia family is a massive and diverse family including numerous plants that don’t even resemble each other. The euphorbia family includes varied plants not all of which are houseplants some examples include; Baseball Plant (E. obesa), Crown of Thorns (E. milii), African Milk Barrel (E. horrida) and the garden perennial Spurge (E. polychroma).  It is also important to know that the overall common name of the euphorbia family is either spurge or milkweed. In the case of the latter name this is not to be confused with Asclepias which is also called milkweed. Either way the Euphorbias from a biological stand point are important because they demonstrate the concept of convergent evolution. In short  in instances such as the African Milk Barrel it has developed into a physical shape resembling the barrel cactus of the American continent dispute the two being entirely different plants biologically. These plants are also useful for teaching the most basic concepts of evolution as individual specimens of similar growth and development can demonstrate what changes can occur with a life form in response to an environment.

This is a view of the entire plant, as you can see the stems don't ever grow straight, the leaves are variegated and edged in white, and unfortunately you cant quite see that the red coloration on the leaves and stems due to the compact size of the photo so it would fit in this blog post.

The crooked stems give this Euphorbia its common name. You can kind of see the zigzag pattern the stems take, in some instances it is very pronounced and in others not as much.
These plants will often form offshoots as seen above, this is their response to being pot-bound. The specimen pictured above was very pot bound in a small 5" clay pot until it was potted up to a 7.5" pot a few weeks prior to being photographed for this post. Typically it should have gone into a 6" pot but given that this plant was overdue for repotting for almost two years I had to make a pot-size exception to the rule.

Devil’s backbone is also known as Pedilanthus tithymaloides, and under that name it bears several additional common names including Jacob’s ladder, Redbird Flower and Japanese Poinsettia. In the case of the common name it should not be confused with the actual perennial garden plant called Jacobs ladder (Polemonium caeruleum).

As a house plant the most common form of Devils backbone is the variegated form which as you can see in the picture has attractive stem colorations and foliage color. This member of the Euphorbia group when it flowers it does so by producing colorful flowers that resemble tiny red birds perched on the foliage. What makes it so unique is that it is a counter to the normal poinsettia. While I do appreciate marbled poinsettia during the holidays, this plant is colorful all year long, and gets more so with increased light exposure during the summer.

In terms of care you will find this one is much more durable then your common poinsettia, as it can withstand neglect longer and doesn’t need any special treatment. Cuttings can be taken in the same way as poinsettia.

With exposure to heavy summer sun this Euphorbia takes on interesting colors. If left indoors for extended periods it remains plain green instead.
The fire sticks Euphorbia is an orderly member of the Euphorbia clan, it produces tiny leaves at stem joints rarely but other wise produces virtually no plant litter. It can be grown in a wide variety of potting soils with little issue as long as the soil is allowed to dry out completely between waterings. Its primary virtue is its form as it resembles a carefree version of reeds or Marestail (Equisetum) or even some form of Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius). For the indoors its loose form can be used in the place of the aforementioned plants minus the upkeep and or invasive issues. In the same way it fills the same role indoors as a Spear Sanseveria might, as a vertical accent to be planted in a contrasting pot and used as a minimalist centerpiece. What really makes this plant special is the ability of its stems to take on a variety of colors after being exposed to full sun during the warmer months. If kept in doors with filtered light this plant remains green. But when exposed to partial sunlight for a few weeks its stems take on a variety of colors in varied hues of yellow, orange and red. Go ahead and google “Euporbia tirucali” in the USDA Plants database you will see what I mean by color. Either way it makes for a fine alternative to a boring old Poinsettia.

With that said there are two more posts left in the year of 2012, so stay tuned for this weekends post, and as always folks Keep 'em Growin!

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