Winter Window Garden For House Plants
( Originally Published 1923 )
If you want a winter garden of high-class flowering plants other than bulbs, at the least expense, make your selection of plants from those mentioned below in this chapter. Most of them will bloom in the dreary month of March, but the azaleas and some others may be had in time for Christmas, if started early. I believe they are the best for beginners, and the plants that are best for beginners are generally the ones that the old-timers come back to after expensive tests of novelties. They are the showy, long-lasting, easily grown coolhouse plants, that you will grow year after year with increasing satisfaction.
GHENT, MOLLIS, AND OTHER AZALEAS
The showiest shrubs are the azaleas. Both the Ghent and mollis azaleas bloom before the leaves expand. The mollis has flowers two and a half inches across, which are yellow, orange or pink, while the Ghent has flowers in all shades, from white to red and lilac. The Indian azalea is an evergreen, with small, shiny, dark green leaves. The flowers are either single or double, and vary from white to deep red, but lack the fire-like gorgeousness of the mollis varieties. This is the plant also known as Belgian Azalea, as the supplies were largely imported from that country prior to the Plant Quarantine law known as Order 37. A new strain of smaller flowered plants, introduced by E. H. Wilson from Japan, is becoming popular as a substitute and is known in the trade as "Kurume" Azaleas.
If the plants have been shipped a long way and the balls are dry, soak them in water until thoroughly wet; then put them into the smallest pots you can. Use a fine soil, made of fibrous loam, peat, and sand. Pot firmly, and water. They can be stored in a cool, light, airy place with a temperature of 35 degrees to 40 degrees, such as a deep cold-frame, or in the cellar near a window. Water sparingly, but do not allow the plants to suffer for want of water. Look out for mildew.
The Ghent and mollis azaleas can be had in bloom in about six weeks from the time they are brought into heat. Some of the Indian azaleas are hard to keep from flowering, particularly if you do not want them until late in the sea-son, unless kept very cool. Since the importation of Indian (Belgian) azaleas has been restricted, other evergreen kinds having smaller flowers—the Kurume types—are being grown.
KEEPING OVER THE SUMMER
To keep the evergreen azaleas over until another season requires but little work. Put them in a light place, like a window, until danger of all frost is past, when they may be put out of doors. After flowering, pick off the dead flowers and water freely, in order that they may make a good growth. If any shoots are growing faster than the others, pinch them back, to form a symmetrical plant. Azaleas, like all members of the heath family, are easily injured by too much or too little water; therefore, see that the soil is always just moist, never let it get dry nor water-logged.
Put the plants out of doors when danger of frost is past. Plunge them to the rim of the pot in well-drained soil or coal ashes. This will keep the pots cool, preventing evaporation of water from them. Some people put their azaleas in the full sunlight during the summer; but, generally, it is better to have them where they can get the early morning and late afternoon sun, but are shaded during the midday. Syringe the foliage late each afternoon with the hose or force pump, and see that the under sides of the leaves are hit by the water, in order to dislodge the red spiders and thrips, which will do a great deal of harm if not checked. In the fall store the plants in a cool, light place, where the temperature is from 35 degrees to 45 degrees. Keep them here until you are ready to force them, then bring them into a living room and have the fun of watching the flowers develop.
The best way to keep the Ghent and mollis azaleas over will be to grow them along as described for the evergreen azaleas and to plant them in the ground outdoors when all danger of frost is past.
HOUSE PLANTS GERANIUMS THE EASIEST OF ALL
So common that we seldom give its transcendent merits a second thought, yet the easiest all-the-year plant to grow in the house, is the ordinary geranium. It is the cheapest plant for the window gardener. Cuttings started in the spring will flower from about Christmas time on. It is one of the few plants on which the home gardener can rely to keep his house looking gay during the holidays.
The geranium wants a rich soil; but the secret of success with it is not to over water — on the other hand, never allow it to become dry. To use a gardener's expression, keep it on the "dry side." A very pretty way of handling geraniums is as standards. For Christmas decoration the standards covered with large trusses of flowers are beautiful. It takes about two years to grow a good standard, two or two and a half feet high.
THE BEST DECEMBER CUT FLOWER
The bouvardia blooms during late fall and early winter, a time when flowers are very scarce. It produces beautiful clusters of flowers three inches across, which are either white or red or some intermediate shade. It makes a very decorative plant, and its flowers, when cut, last well in water — indeed, it is a most desirable plant for either the window garden or small greenhouse.
To have good plants for winter flowering, start in March. The usual way of increasing this plant is by root cuttings. (See Chapter V.) Another good way is to divide a healthy plant into pieces small enough to go in three-inch pots. The plants are grown on as rapidly as possible in the house in a night temperature of 6o degrees. During the last week in May, plant the bouvardia out in the open in rich soil, where it can have water and thorough cultivation. Here they will make a rapid growth. Pinch back the leaves from time to time during summer, in order to induce a compact growth.
Late in August, the plants must be transferred to their winter quarters — a house having a night temperature of about 50 degrees. I have always grown bouvardias in pots; but they may be put in a box, setting the plants ten to twelve inches apart. If you have a small greenhouse the benches of which are to be empty during the summer, the plants may be planted on them in the spring, which will save some work in the fall. A good fibrous loam to which there has been an addition of peat or leafmould and well decayed horse manure and sand, will make an excellent soil for growing these plants.
The bouvardia is rather hard to trans-plant, so must be carefully handled and, after transplanting, shaded and frequently syringed.
Late in April, or early in May, prune the plants back and, as soon as the weather permits, plant in the open again. Plants which have reached the age of four or five years will make beautiful specimens.
The mealy bug and the aphides will be troublesome. The best way of combating these pests is spraying about once a week. with some insecticide, such as the prepared . forms of tobacco.
THE FRAGRANT STEVIA
The most fragrant flower which you can be sure of having for Christmas is the stevia (Piqueria trinervia). Take cuttings in January or just as soon as it is through flowering, and grow them on, shifting them from time to time until they are put in six-inch pots. When all danger of frost is past plunge them outdoors in ashes. Turn the pots each day to keep the plants from rooting through into the ground. Pinch out the ends of the growths frequently so as to induce a bushy growth; for stevia naturally make a loose, scraggly growth. Upon the approach of cold weather store the plants in a light, cool place, and bring them a few at a time, into heat in the dwelling room. By thus working for a succession you have the stevia in bloom during late November, December, and January.
RED BERRIES FOR TWo YEARS
One of the best red berried plants for Christmas is Ardisia crenulata. It is easily grown from seed, but is slow. Seeds sown in March or April will bloom the following spring, and have a good crop of berries the next winter. The plant grows in this time nine inches to a foot high. The leaves area very dark glossy green, and so beautiful that it is well worth growing for its foliage alone.
Skimmia Japonica is a broad-leaved ever-green which is not hardy north of Washing-ton, D. C., but, although rather a slow grower, it is one of the handsomest of the red-berried plants which may be had for Christmas decoration. If seeds are sown in the fall and the young plants carried over winter in a cool place, and planted out in the garden in good soil, beautiful little plants will be had for potting in October, which will bear a good crop of berries that will remain on the plants all winter. These berries are bright scarlet or coral red, slightly angled, and about one-quarter of an inch across. At the present time seeds are scarce, so the best way will be to buy a plant from the florist and carry it over from year to year.
With the best of care and cultivation these plants will probably never exceed a height of two or three feet when grown in pots. One drawback to their cultivation is that only one kind of a flower is borne on a plant so that if one wishes berries he must see to it that he has both staminate and pistillate flowers.
In addition to the winter decorative qualities of this plant, it is beautiful in the spring, when in flower. It has many small, yellowish white flowers one-quarter of an inch across, which are borne in the axils of the leaves in clusters two inches in diameter.
Another broad-leaved evergreen not hardy North, but which can be successfully grown in a cool room is Aucuba japonica. It is hardy in the South. It is a shrub four to fifteen feet high, with beautiful dark green leaves. Like the skimmia, the flowers are not perfect, so if fruit is wanted care must be taken to grow both sexes, and when in flower shake the staminate ones over the pistillate ones that they may be fertilized. To carry this plant over winter keep it in a deep cold-frame or cool room which does not freeze and keep the soil somewhat dry.
The cheapest red-berried plant which one may have at Christmas is the Jerusalem cherry (Solanum Pseudo-Capsicum).
GAY LITTLE PEPPERS
Of late the florists have been growing some of the small red peppers in pots for Christmas. The varieties usually grown (Celestial and Kaleidoscope) bear a profusion of small fruits an inch to an inch and a half long. They change from green to cream colour, then yellow, and finally bright red, making a happy combination with the lively green leaves. After they have lost their beauty throw them away, for it is no use to carry them over to another year as they are easily grown from seed, but if you take good care of them, the fruits will last until February.
An interesting pepper is the Tabasco, from which the famous sauce of that name is made. It grows about three feet high. There is also a form Of this called Coral Gem, that grows only about one foot high, and makes a handsome pot plant. The fruits of both are exceedingly hot.
ASPARAGUS IN BASKETS
Asparagus Sprengeri is one of the very best plants for hanging pots or baskets.
It has woody stems two feet or more long, which bear many small, flat "leaves" which are usually yellowish green. As it weakens the plant to produce seeds it is seldom allowed to fruit, but a well-fruited specimen is certainly a beautiful sight.
I know one florist who had a pair of plants, each of which was about one and one-half to two feet in diameter, which he sold for twenty-five dollars apiece.
Easter is the great floral festival of the year and no other holiday is so intimately connected with flowers.
The favourite colour at Easter is white, just as red is the dominant colour for Christmas flowers. Red stands for warmth and happiness in the dead of winter; white stands for purity and for the Resurrection.
The most appropriate flower for Easter is unquestionably the lily, because it has been associated for the longest time with Easter. The Easter lily of to-day is not the lily of history and of religious painting. It was not until the early eighties that the Madonna or Annunciation lily was displaced as an Easter flower by the Bermuda lily. The Madonna lily does not bloom outdoors in the northern United States at Easter time, as it does in southern Europe, and it is not so easily forced into bloom as is the Bermuda lily. Moreover, the Bermuda lily is generally considered to be a more beautiful flower. It is a longer and larger flower, and shaped like a trumpet, whereas the Madonna lily is bell-shaped.
The bulbs of these are received in August; pot them at once, and bury the pots out-doors until late in November, when they must be lifted and started into growth. A temperature of about 55 degrees at night suits them very well; but, if it is necessary to have them in flower on Easter day, and it comes early, you will probably find it necessary to put the pots in a slightly warmer situation to hurry development. After the plants have begun to make a good growth (say eighteen inches high) liquid fertilizer given once or twice a week, will be of great benefit.
You will find it very hard to keep the lilies clean, for the aphis is- very fond of them. Spray them frequently with an insecticide like tobacco water, or fumigate them with one of the various forms of tobacco.
THE PARIS DAISY
The marguerite or Paris daisy makes an excellent pot plant for the window garden.
THE INDIAN AZALEA
A favorite Easter-flowering plant. If put outdoors in a cool, shaded place in summer, it can be carried on from year to Year, merely by being brought indoors in rho ,winter
FOLIAGE PLANTS FOR CHRISTMAS DECORATION
Dracenas and ferns. Of the former the red-leaved D. terminalis is the most showy, and tin spider ferns shown on the edge. are the most resistant to house conditions, trying at the very best.
Plants in flower, bought from the florist early in the winter, will remain in bloom all winter if you remove the flowers as they fade. When all danger of frost is past plant it outdoors, and it will give scattering blossoms all summer. Do not attempt to bring it into the house next fall, but as soon as the frost has killed it pull it up and throw it away. If it is convenient to grow a few plants of the marguerite for next winter's flowers make cuttings of the ends of the branches in the early part of May and as soon as rooted plant outdoors and pot early in September. As it is rather difficult to lift, considerable care must be exercised; but it can be safely done.
THE PELARGONIUM OR SHOW GERANIUM
A close relative of the common or zonal geranium is the pelargonium (Pelargonium domesticum) of which the Martha Washington geranium is the most familiar example. This does not have as many flowers in a truss as the geranium, but they are larger and much handsomer. The flowers usually have a white ground, and are variously marked or blotched with red or purple.
These plants are usually flowered in May and June; but by starting them into growth earlier they may be had in flower at Easter time. As soon as the plants have done flowering remove the old flower stalks and set the plants outside in the full sun. Here let them ripen their wood, and gradually withhold water, giving the plants a good rest. In September prune them into shape, cutting back as one may fancy, but removing all soft and weak shoots. Then shake the old soil from among the roots, and repot them in a smaller-sized pot than they have been in, one in which you can just get the roots comfortably. Give them a thorough watering, and place them in a deep cold-frame. Here they may be left until late in the fall, so long as they are protected from frosts. In October transfer the plants to the house. In January they will need a shift into the larger pots in which they are to bloom.
During the midwinter months give only a small amount of water. As they grow, pinch out the shoots, in order to get a well shaped plant; also take out any weak shoots which may start. Discontinue stopping the branches in February, as the flower buds commence to form.
The appearance of the plant will be greatly improved if trained to a stake. This must be done before the wOod hardens, which it does quite rapidly.
As soon as the plants are well established in their flowering pots apply manure water and keep this up until the flowering time.
The red spider and the aphides will surely bother. Syringing the plants with one of the tobacco extracts which has been diluted with water will be the best preventive, as the foliage is tender, and is easily injured by fumigation with tobacco stems. The blooming season is prolonged by giving the plants a slight shade.
THE YELLOW FLOWERED GENISTA
The genista (Cytisus Canariensis), a hand-some evergreen shrub, bearing many spikes of small, yellow, pea-shaped flowers, is very easily handled, and I would not be without some good specimens. After they have flowered, in March or April, cut back the plants, give them a small shift, and put them in a close atmosphere and syringe daily until well established, then give plenty of air and a slight shade. As soon as the danger of frost is past put them out of doors for the summer, and syringe daily. Leave them out until frost threatens, then store them in a cool greenhouse — one having a temperature not exceeding 40 degrees at night, or in a pit or deep coldframe where frost will not reach them. See that they have plenty of light and air, as they mildew easily. When ready for forcing give them a temperature of so degrees at night, and they will flower in a few weeks.
The genista is easily grown from cuttings, which should be taken from the plants after they are through flowering. As soon as they are rooted pot them up in two-inch pots and shift them to a larger size if necessary later on. As soon as all danger of frost is past plant them out in the open ground. Here they will make rapid growth, and will probably need a six-inch pot in the fall. Store until ready to force in a light, cool place.
THE TENDER HYDRANGEA
The hydrangea (Hydrangea hortensis) may be forced year after year without any effort or injury to the plant. There are a number of different varieties of this, the flowers varying in colour from white to pink and light blue. Much can be done to induce the blue colour in the flowers by watering the plants all summer with a weak solution of alum. To make: dissolve one pound of alum in two quarts of ammonia and add the whole to twenty gallons of water, mixing it well. Always use this for watering the plants, and do not expose the plants to direct sunlight. This must be used when the plants are making their growth in the summer previous to being forced. When the hydrangea is through flowering cut it back, say in May, removing about half the growth. If you cut back more than this there is likely to be a strong growth from the roots which will not flower the following year. The plants may be either set in the open ground or repotted and plunged outdoors. Grow them out-doors until danger of frost; then bring them in and store them in a very cool and light place. All summer the plants will need an abundance of water, twice a day at least on sunny days, for they are thirsty plants, and give them liquid fertilizer occasionally.
During the winter, while stored, give them only enough water to keep the wood from shriveling. The leaves will drop off, but that is only natural, so do not be alarmed.
To get the plants in flower for Easter start them early in January, as they need about twelve or fourteen weeks to force properly.
This hydrangea is not perfectly hardy outdoors unless given a warm covering, the canes die back in the ground unless protected. The best way is to lay down the canes on the ground and cover them with several inches of soil. Do it before the hard frosts come.
THE JAPANESE SPIREA
The best feathery white bloom in winter is that of Astilbe japonica. It is also orie of the easiest to force. There are quite a number of improvements over the type. The best of all is Gladstone. There has been introduced recently a pink flowered variety, Queen Alexandra, a very desirable form.
The astilbe is a hardy plant, and it may be forced repeatedly. The roots are bought from the bulb merchants. They do not arrive from abroad, however, until about November. As soon as received pot them up in a good potting soil, water them, and store them in a cool, dark place.
It takes ten to fourteen weeks to flower the astilbe, so if you want the plants for any special occasion you must figure ahead a bit. The astilbe is not at all particular as to temperature, anywhere between 5O degrees and 6o degrees will do. Anything above that will cause a flabby growth and the plant will have no lasting qualities. When through flowering keep the plants in a light place until all danger of frost is past, when they can be planted outdoors in the border and left until a year from the following fall, when they may be potted up and again forced.
A lot of pleasure may be had from forcing the gladiolus. The best one for this is G. Colvillei, an early blooming hybrid, which has many varieties. For Easter bloom the bulbs need not be started until December.
The secret of success in forcing gladioli is to grow them cool. A night temperature of 45 degrees to 50 degrees is plenty warm enough. Plant them in boxes six inches deep, setting the bulbs three inches apart each way. Make one inch holes in the bottom of the boxes every six inches, and give good drainage. Some good varieties are the Bride, Ne Plus Ultra, Shakespeare, Cardinal, and May. With these you are almost sure to succeed. The late flowering varieties are more or less likely to go "blind," i. e., the buds fail to expand.