Jim Shields' Garden Notes
Blog Home | Archives | Category Index | Links | About This Blog | Shields Gardens
Blog Home : December 2008

- Flowers for the Season

The first flowers I think of for the Christmas Season are poinsettias. They are deeply ingrained in my subconscious mind for the time of year. Still, they are not the only flowers we can have in bloom for Christmas. The Dutch hybrid "amaryllis," really Hippeastrum, are also readily available and ready to bloom. Rare in the U.S.A. but common in Europe are the Belgian hybrid clivias, forms of Clivia miniata.

Ubiquitous now wherever flowers are sold are orchids. A few years ago they were considered rare and exotic. They are available year round and in a multitude of colors. Most seem to be phalanopsis, the moth orchids; but you occasionally see oncidium hybrids, the so-called dancing doll or butterfly orchids.

All of the plants are treated as annuals and are discarded as soon as their flowers fade. However, if grown as houseplants or in a greenhouse, all are perennial. All of them can live a very long time and rebloom in later years.

Poinsettias originated in Mexico, and they grow as large bushy shrubs in warm climates. The biggest problem with growing them as perennials is their susceptibility to white flies. These can be controlled by using a systemic insecticide regularly. Getting them to flower requires some attention to day length. In winter, they need to be in an area that does not get artificial light. A few months after being exposed to uninterrupted nights at least 14 hours long, they will produce their tiny flowers surrounded by the characteristic large red bracts. In nature and in your house, they will bloom naturally around Easter rather than at the Christmas season.

The Dutch amaryllis are long lived bulbs. Although their wild ancestors are native to South America, the popular large flowered hybrds were developed in the Netherlands. These days, many are also grown in South Africa; while the least expensive bulbs will come from India in all probability. The amaryllis are dormant in autumn and winter, and they may or may not lose their leaves during their dormant period. Well-grown bulbs will produce two flower stalks per year. They have been selected over the years for that trait.

Orchids are both the easiest and the hardest flowers to carry over.

I have Oncidium orchids that I've had for ten years of pretty bad neglect. They don't look very pretty now, but they survive. On the other hand, it can be a serious challenge to get orchids to bloom again in following years. The oncidiums tolerate strong lightly dappled sunlight and humidity from low to high. They just need to be kept watered at regular intervals and fed occasionally.

The Phalanopsis orchids need moderate light, moderate temperatures, and fairly high humidity. The problem for growing them as house plants will usually be keeping the humidity high enough for them to form and carry a new bloom stalk. They do not tolerate the sort of neglect that oncidiums can endure.

The Cattleya orchids vary widely in ease of bloom. I have one lovely big white cattley that seems to bloom every year about this time with only minimal care during the year. It is certainly worth the little trouble it gives just for the beautiful flowers.

Cymbidiums are terrestrial orchids that not only tolerate but which need some pretty chilly temperatures in autumn in order to produce flowers in winter. Mine are mainly hand-me-downs from friends who otherwise treat them as annuals. I happily accept the bloomed-out plants, divide them, and repot. Several are in scape right now.

Good gardening,


- Gardening in a Recession

We are in a full scale economic recession, at least in the U.S.A. Granted, unemployment is only 6.7% so far, compared to the ca. 25% at the peak of the Great Depression of the 1930s. So it is still just a recession, but that's bad enough. The most optimistic estimate I've seen says this will still get worse before it starts to get better again, and it will last at least through the next 18 months. So what can you do in the garden in a situation like this?

If you are working reduced hours or not at all, if money is getting to be in short supply, making a garden to grow some of your own food could ease the pressure on what money you still have. Making a garden is not free, but it does not have to be so expensive that your would be better off just buying your vegetables at the supermarket.

If you stay at home all day, and live in the country, you might start growing some of your own food next spring. If you work full time and live in the city, you might not find it worth the bother. If you garden with lots of pesticides, they will cost you more than the produce you grow would cost at the supermarket.

How Much

If you have the time and the space, remember the rule, "One man, one acre." That is, one person working approximately full time can properly care for a garden of at most one acre. And that is an optimistic estimate, made years ago by a professional German gardener in good physical condition. It will be hard work.

You will need to do your own weeding, mainly by hand but supplemented with mulching. Your composted mulch (start your compost pile now!) will help by replacing much of the fertilizer you might otherwise need to buy. You will need to go after as many insect pests by hand as you can manage. Tomato hornworms, cabbage butterfly larvae, and even to some extent squash/zucchini borers, can be limited by diligent hand picking when they get large enough to see.

What to grow

What to grow? That will depend on geography as much as on your personal preferences in vegetables. Here in central Indiana, in USDA zone 5, where we get 35 to 40 inches of precipitation per year, more or less evenly spread through the twelve months, we can grow spring crops like garden peas, lettuce, and radishes. For summer, green beans, zucchini, sweet corn, and tomatoes are no-brainers, while more exotic things like muskmelons depend very much on microclimate and how far you want to go to ameliorate climate. To extend the growing season, you can try putting polyethylene tunnels over some of the rows and grow the marginal crops in the tunnels.

For a balanced diet, you need carbohydrates from crops like potatoes, garden peas, and sweet corn. You need protein from things like beans of all sorts. You need vitamins and minerals from things like salad greens and fruits. Things like broccoli and brussels sprouts may be growable and are first rate nutritional resources.


What you can grow in your particular geographical area and climate will vary. Now is the time to start researching things, before the seeds show up in the garden centers in a scant few weeks. Do your homework now, so you don't waste your resources in the growing season. Select those varieties that are timed to mature in periods no longer than your local growing season.

Water is a worry no matter where you garden. Here in the Midwest, we know to expect drought periods as well as flooding. Creek bottom land is great, until you get a solid week or two of rain that floods it and kills all your plants. Be prepared as well to supplement natural rainfall during dry spells, so place your garden within a garden hose length of a well or sillcock. You can buy garden hose in rolls up to at least 100 feet in length, but those long hoses are heavy to move. It's better to get four 50-ft. hoses to string together rather than two 100-ft. hoses. You'll thank me when you try to put those hoses away next autumn.

To Garden or Not to Garden

A "recession" garden, like the Victory Gardens of World War II, is a response to a crisis. Is your crisis condition going to be improved if you devote the time, energy, and money to creating a vegetable garden? Are there better ways to ease the crisis conditions in your personal situation than to make and maintain a garden? The more ambitious your garden project, the more likely you are to end up with surpluses. Are you prepared to preserve the surpluses for use after the garden season ends? If it's a good idea to make a garden, it would probably also be a very good idea to preserve any surpluses you obtain.

Note that we are not addressing questions of the environment, nor of more healthful food for your family, nor of gardening as therapy for your soul. We are just looking at making a garden as a way of dealing with some of the problems associated with living through our current economic situation. Good luck!

Good gardening,





Blog Home | Archives | Category Index | Links | About This Blog | Shields Gardens

Easy Blogs - Evaluation edition
Last revised on: 17 December 2008
© Page and Contents Copyright 2008 by Shields Gardens Ltd. All rights reserved.