A Squeaky Clean New Year
My number one New Year’s resolution is to wipe down every leaf of my Myer’s Lemon & Bearr’s Lime citrus trees. I used to struggle with dilution formulas using dish soap or 10% hydrogen peroxide and warm water to battle uninvited adult mites, aphids or whitefly: then spray with diluted Neem oil to suffocate the waiting eggs of scale or any other legged creature-to-be. Fortunately, Safer’s has come up with an insecticidal soap formula called “End All”, with Neem oil, which is diluted and ready to go. A week later I can wipe or spray with simple warm water, perhaps spraying a second time in 2 weeks or so.
My next clean up job is to apologise for the rude seasonal “throw-in” to all my greenhouse over-wintering plants… My daughter recently booked me for a greenhouse tour behind the scenes at Butchart Gardens. It was equal measures a guilt trip, when they showed us one greenhouse where they over-winter standard fuchsias and de-leafed every plant to cut down on disease and bug infestations… And part reassuring when we got to the begonia house and they had not started clean up at all! Both were kept in surprisingly low temperatures to keep the plants (and bugs) in winter stasis. The “cutting” or propagation greenhouse was the warmest and surprizing enough, all cuttings were done in time honoured yellow cedar boxes with coarse sand. No hormone powders. And an impressive success rate!
My greenhouse is like a giant cool coldframe. For plant health, the first thing I installed was two continuously running fans. This keeps the circulating air healthier, especially minimizing molds and mildews settling in corners. Fans are a must too for your home sunroom or conservatory… All my baby Lavenders, Herbs or Scented Geraniums get a trim to take off tatty old leaves. Next I scrape a small amount of top soil off every single plant to remove weed seeds, moss and sleeping insect eggs. I replace with sterile potting soil. At this dormant time of year, no fertilizer is required.
January is a great month to check all your houseplants. Change the top inch or so of soil, check for bugs, again no fertilizer yet. Frequently I use a top layer of medium “chicken grit” granite to keep this surface dry to stop any scum and make it less friendly for soil surface insects to move in. Start lightly fertilizing house plants in March.
Check your Cymbidium Orchids for new bloom spikes and move them to a warmer, no draft table just inside a window so there is a warmer air “pillow” between them and your bright window. These are sturdy orchid varieties I can throw outside in partial shade all summer where the first cool autumn temperatures trigger the bloom cycle but do not let them freeze. Bring them in somewhere frost free by mid-September, even a cool bright sun porch to bud up. Too much heat risks the dreaded red spider mite… “End All” is only a temporary solution if you do not address the environment stress of hot and dry or the mites will return. In January especially with our homes are so warm, these red spider mites can run through all your house plants. Try to keep your indoor plants misted, place on saucers of gravel that you water to create moist humidity or move these indoor babies to a cooler, bright bedroom or office until outside starts to warm up and the temperature is not so different in/out.
In my big greenhouse, my middle bench is actually a sand bed with a buried heating cable where I can control the bottom heat temperature. In winter it generally is my only heat source and I set it at 10 C with semi-tropicals and non-blooming orchids on top. Come spring I start with brand new 4” pots or 4 packs for my new seeds in sterile “Sunshine” style bale soil and this bench becomes my propagation table when I raise the bottom heat. Once the new seedlings pop up, I move them onto outer cooler benches as too much heat can “stretch” and stress their sturdiness which is a balance of heat/light/water and oh oh…attract sap sucking aphids. Soggy soil on the outer benches can attract fungus gnats…An easy trick here is to invest in sticky yellow strips to catch the adults. I staple them to the top end of wooden tongue depressors, then pop them in pots…these can be used in your house too!
Seedy Saturday is in February; a great reminder to start inside seeds in March! Keep it simple, sterile and bright. Restrain your use of fertilizer until a good root and leaf system can take advantage of all that goodness. If you gently tip over your pot and squeeze the sides, your baby should slide out into your other hand and with any luck, the emerging white roots will hold the soil intact and you will get a good look at its new vigor. Start diluted feeding at this stage, soon full speed ahead! Bugs love your super-duper homemade rich soil; it is teeming with life, not all advantageous, so don’t rush to use it and save it for your older seedlings as you pot them on and move them outside.
When I move babies from the 4 inch pot stage into gallons, I do use recycled pots when plants are more mature and less vulnerable to diseases. It is generally a summer time job to sterilize any pots, even the greenhouse benches when most nursery plants are outside…I simply use diluted 10% Bleach to warm water.
It is that hurry up and wait time of year. I hope you do not have Spring Fever yet, SEED fever and day dreaming of this year’s garden successes is right on time! Meanwhile you will find me lovingly “polishing” citrus tree leaves~ this is one New Year’s resolution I can keep!
Happy New Gardening year!
Originally published in the January 2014 edition of the Metchosin Muse