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Forcing Branches to Bloom Indoors

In the dark winter days, when it is too cold to step outside, we all crave a little color indoors. A great way to achieve this is by bringing branches and “force” them to bloom. “Forcing” is a term used in horticulture for plants to be what they are not. Forcing bulbs to bloom indoors is very common and it means months of cold stratification, planting, then watering, then growing. For branches forcing is a tad too strong a word. It just involves snipping flowering branches outdoors and bringing them in for them to bloom indoors.

The what: Any trees and shrubs that flowers in spring are good for forcing indoors. Make sure not to prune off too much, to avoid hurting the host tree or shrub and losing blooms outdoors in spring. I have had good luck forcing blooms on forsythia, plum, and lilac branches.

The when: You should take the cuttings to force in late winter, after at least 4-6 weeks of cold weather. The buds on most flowering trees and shrubs form the previous year and and breaks dormancy in warm weather. So when the branches are brought indoors, the warm indoor temperature forces them to break dormancy and bloom. I bring my cuttings indoors in late January.

The how: Cut branches using clean pruners and make the cut at the base of the stem. You will cut just at the top of the branch collar, a widened part of the branch where it joins the larger branch or trunk. Do not leave stubs (a length of branch that bears no buds) or tear the branch off. Both of these are damaging to the tree or shrub you are hoping to keep in your garden! I take the cuttings off the tress and shrubs that I want to prune for better shape and health of the plant. After taking the cuttings, make sure that they are clean (no spider webs!!), bring the cut branches into the house, put them in water, and set them in a cool, shady location so they can gradually warm up to the indoor temperatures. It may take a few weeks for them to bloom, but you will be enjoying their blooms much sooner than your garden this way.

Orchids Care and Repotting

Orchids (Orchidaceae) are a very diverse family of plants which includes approximately 20,000 different species. While orchids are grown as natives in tropical climate, here in gardening zone 8b, it is a house plant. The most commonly grown houseplant orchid is of variety “Phalaenopsis“. It is also the easiest to take care of and blooms off and on throughout the year. They come in a lot of different colors. When in bloom, they look stunning and lasts for a long time.

While the orchids are easy to care for, they have certain needs that make them thrive. The repotting topic is the broadest and varies widely.

  • Light : The primary reason Orchids don’t flower is when they don’t get sufficient light. They need bright, indirect sunlight to bloom, but direct sunlight makes their leaves scorch. I usually keep mine in a south (or east) facing window sill during winter and a north facing window sill during summer.
  • Water: When someone tells me that their orchid died, I am almost certain that there was root rot involved. The orchids must NOT sit in water or their soft tender roots will rot. I water them thoroughly once a month and that is sufficient in our humid Seattle weather. The clear indication that the orchid are healthy comes from their roots. Bright green roots tell us that the orchid has sufficient water, when the root turns brown, it is telling us that the orchid lacks moisture and when they are slimy silvery color, the root rot has set. If in doubt, it is better to under water than over water. It is very hard to recover a plant if the root has started to rot. In this context, it is worth mentioning that the reason why orchids should never be planted in a potting mix or soil is because they hold on to too much moisture and the roots will rot in a matter of weeks.
  • Feeding: I do not give any fertilizers to any of my indoor plants including Orchids and they have not complained thus far.
  • Repotting: Orchids are usually sold potted in a special orchid potting mix which is very “airy”. They usually consist of bark, charcoal, sphagnum moss and contains minerals to help the orchids grow. I only repot my orchid every 3/4 years unless they show signs of distress, if bark or potting mix has broken down, or if the plant “pushes” itself up and out of the pot. To re-pot, take the plant out of the planter, and remove all the bark/mix from around its root. This is a good time to cut off dead or diseased roots. Only keep the roots that are green and plump. Then replant the orchid with fresh orchid potting mix. One thing to remember here is to make sure that the pots have a lot f drainage hole/slats. Usually the clear plastic pots that the orchids are sold in are the best pots for growing orchids. But they can also be grown in more aesthetically pleasing glazed or terracotta pots provided they have at least a few holes/slats to allow for water to drain and light to reach the roots. The Orchid roots have chlorophyll which means the roots can also photosynthesize and add energy to the plant. The plant will still survive if the roots do not get sunlight as the leaves also adds energy by photosynthesis. Most orchids prefer shallow squat pots as their roots don’t like the moisture retained in the deep pots and they don’t need the depth anyway as the roots spread out, not down. As far as the timing of repotting goes, it can be repotted any time of the year. However, it is best to repot after a flush of bloom so that there is no loss of the prized blooms. There is also an option of skipping the entire orchid potting mix and letting the orchids grow in water. Since I have no experience growing orchids using that method, I am skipping that here. There are plenty of literature available online if you want to explore that option.

You can watch the process of repotting orchids, while I do mine.

Repotting Orchids

Winter? “Sow” be it..

Winter sowing is the technique of growing plants from seeds sown in winter to give them a head start in spring. As any gardener who has ever struggled with a self-seeding plant knows, some seeds do very well when left outdoors in the cold all winter. The seeds that does well in this technique are the ones that need to experience cold, damp conditions either because they have hard shells that are softened by the freezing and thawing or because they are triggered by the change in temperature to sprout. This is called stratification. 

So, how is “winter sowing” different than “self sowing? Winter sowing essentially provides a mini greenhouse environment to control the germination of seeds within the boundaries of the container it is sowed in. A quick internet search told me that the phrase “winter sowing” is attributed to Trudi Davidoff, a resourceful gardener who had more seeds than indoor space. Ms. Davidoff sows seeds in covered containers (she uses take-out containers with foil bottoms and plastic tops) and then moves the containers outdoors. The containers act as mini greenhouses, allowing the seeds to experience the chill of winter in a controlled environment. When the temperature warms enough, the seeds germinate and start to grow. I learnt about this technique in the last few months and wanted to give it a try. I sowed Tiger Paw Asters, Monarda (Bee Balm), and Lupine seeds. I am eagerly waiting to see if I am successful in this process. I won’t write about the step by step process I followed, instead I am linking the video here:

My first experience with winter sowing

I will provide an update on this experiment in spring. So make sure to follow me here or in my social media accounts.

My green house mates

I want to start this post by providing a disclaimer that I am less enthusiastic about growing plants indoors than I am about growing them out in my yard. I mostly grow plant indoors for the aesthetic they bring in my home decor and I use them for styling spaces. Thats also the reason I struggle to find the plants that fits into the conditions where I want to have them. A “plant room” concept doesn’t appeal to me – yet! I have learnt that how I decorate a room has evolved over time and I am not going to predict that I will never take a liking to a room for my plants only. I also like to style the indoor plants in containers which go with my current decorating style. I change these containers as per season and as often as my mood strikes.

This pothos is very special to me and has lived with me for more about a decade. She was a gift from a gardening friend in when I was not sure I could take care of a house plant. She gave it to me with the reassurance “you can’t kill her” and I am happy to report that I have proved her right 🙂

The planter is also special and a handmade wooden one from Indonesia. I bought her when we moved into our first house in 2006. She is absolutely gorgeous and holds a place of pride in my living room.

These Angel Plants are newly acquired. I enjoy the gorgeous foliage of these lovely plants. The one in red pot is called the Dragon’s Tongue. The foliage is grass-like, wispy and purplish green. The pot itself is recycled from an Orchid that I had once owned.

The one in the pewter pitcher is called “Purple Waffles” angel plant. I love the crinkled edge foliage of this plant. The pitcher is from my collection of water jugs.

I “rescued” this palm recently from the clearance rack. It was suffering from very dry soil, there were multiple dried/dead fronds and the foliage also had hard water residue. I cut off the dead stalks, cleaned the foliage with neem oil and watered thoroughly. Approximately 3 weeks later, I can see a fresh new frond opening. It is beautiful and for now in a beautiful basket I already had at home. Thrifty tip of the week – always check the clearance racks when you shop for new plants.

The other plants I have around me indoors are a few succulents (echeverias), a couple of Christmas cacti, bamboo and a gorgeous umbrella plant. The echeverias are housed in smaller containers like this lovely season appropriate espresso mug. The two Christmas cacti are more than a decade old and blooms in all but the Christmas season. The flowers are pink and very dainty. The bamboos live in container filled with water in my dining table and the umbrella plant is in a corner of my dining room.

I have few other plants around the house like spider plants, snake plant (aka Mother-In-Laws tongue), Dracaenas and bromeliads. They blend into the background without trying to hog attention – just as I like all my house plants to do. One thing to add, I never feed/fertilize my house plants. I do change the soil every 3/4 years and give them fresh potting mix to enjoy. They all sit close to a light source (window sills, sky light) and I water them sparingly (once a month) during the winter and more often (at least twice a month) during the summer.

Hope you enjoyed seeing some of my house plants. Let me know if you did and tell me what you enjoy growing in your house?

A year that was : highlights of the garden 2020

2020 was a year like no other. Stepping into the new year, I don’t think anyone anticipated the lifestyle changes that we all needed to make this year. With the surge of COVID-19 cases globally, there was an impact on almost every aspect of our lives, including how much time we spend at home. Even with the worry for the safety of all, I was happy that I now had some extra time I could spend in the garden. So when the “work from home” directive came, I went into “do as much in the garden as you can while you can stay at home” mode. Little did I know that I will be spending the rest of the year working from home.

The primroses were beautiful. I only have the perennial kind – this is one “thrifty” gardening tip I have. I only buy hardy plants. They come back stronger and better each year and after a few years I can divide them and get free plants or share with my gardening friends.

Perennial primroses

I am very unimpressed by my hellebores. They look sparse. I added one more to the bed. Hopefully it will look better. I also have to remember to fertilize this bed.

Hellebores

The star of the spring show as always is my beautiful Camellia. Covered with pink blooms, she is a sight to behold for weeks.

Camellia

The spring bulbs provided the colors they promised! However, I need some daffodils/narcissus in my life. The ones I had finally gave up this year.

Hyacinths
Tulips

I am so glad that I put Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) in so many parts of the yard. The flowers brightens up the spring garden. But more importantly, the evergreen nature of this plant makes it so attractive year round.

Evergreen Candytuft

How stunning are the Plum blooms in spring? Sadly, I got very few fruits this year, but the flowers makes me so happy! And I added one more plum tree in the backyard. More to look forward to.

Japanese Plum

The Azaleas and Rhododendrons did their thing!

Rhododendron and Azaleas

The purple Erysimum Bowles Mauve is one of the first flowers to bloom in the backyard and continues to bloom till the temperature goes above 70F. The red and yellow variety of Euphorbia were beautiful.

Left : Red Euphorbia, Top right : Erysimum Bowles Mauve, Bottom right : Yellow Euphorbia

I love clematis. The ones I have, have been in my yard for a very long time. Except the clematis Montana, I think I need to replace the others as the blooms are getting less profuse.

Clematis

The ever reliable peonies were gorgeous! The white one is Mr.Ed which was a Mothers Day gift from Rishi in 2019. The pink with double shade is a new addition in 2019 and came from a plant exchange. I added a Shirley Temple peony this year but it didn’t bloom. Hopefully it will in the next season.

Peonies

I have always said that roses are not my favorite flowers. Not because they are not gorgeous – they sure are – but because of the fuss it takes to ensure disease free, prolonged blooms. The dark red (almost maroon) rose is a new addition to my garden. Planted in 2019, it was given to me by a gardening friend and it was a huge success. Huge dark red flowers bloomed continuously for the longest time. My six year old knock out rose also survived the bunny attacks this year and bloomed profusely all season. I moved an orange rose from our old house to the backyard. Fingers crossed, I will get the gorgeous blooms next season. This rose is particularly special for its intensely sweet fragrance.

Roses

My hydrangea collection did not disappoint. I added a new mop head variety earlier in spring and it surprised me by giving a gorgeous pink bloom. Hydrangea Paniculata “Fire and Ice” which I added last year, bloomed beautifully.

Hydrangeas

The surprise performers of the season this year were the dahlias! I did not buy a single new dahlia and grew them from the tubers I had saved from previous years. And what a performance they put on! It was the best year of dahlia blooms I had so far.

Dahlias

The pansies, lilies, petunias, begonia, salvia, hollyhocks, daisies, crocosmia, coreopsis, nasturtiums, asters, phlox, Japanese anemones (one of which I grew in a pot this year), gladioli, rudbekia, perennial sunflowers, and zinnias all put on their show. Special mention to the Jasmine I bought this year and also to my first experience growing mimulus and astrantia!

this and that…
…and a lot more blooms!

This blog is running embarrassingly long, so I won’t mention the usual foliage attraction that I grew which brought so much joy to me!

I am often asked if I don’t grow food. Of course I do! And I do wish to grow a lot more. Due to the pandemic this year, I did not venture out to buy seeds/plants early in the season. I did buy 2 blueberry plants and was surprised to get a reasonable yield of fruits from them. As mentioned earlier in the blog, I added one more Italian Plum tree too. I also got a good harvest of strawberries from the crop I already had. I got 8 tomato plants (Green Zebra variety) growing from my compost pile which were a very welcome surprise. The best crop that I grow each year are the scarlet runner beans. I got awesome harvest of these beans this year as well. I grew Swiss Chard as always. And tried growing radishes and beets both of which I will mark as “failures” since I got a minuscule amount of crop from them! Got only a few potatoes from the seed potatoes that remained in the ground after last year. We really enjoyed fried pumpkin blossoms from the plants I grew this year from seeds.

The food I grew

I hope to blog more and add more details of my gardening journey in the new year.

If you read this far, you are amazingly patient! And I thank you sincerely for following me along. Please leave your thoughts in comments or contact me via email. Until next time then….adios!